In the run-up to Israel’s possible extension of sovereignty to the Jordan Valley, a reasonable and important question is being asked by some staunch supporters of Israel and some Israeli patriots. “The border between Israel and Jordan has been quiet and secure for a long time, despite the presence of a fairly small Israeli military contingent there,” they claim correctly. “Why should Israel do anything that could fundamentally destabilize Jordan and risk requiring a great human and economic Israeli investment on the border?”
It is ironic that most of these defenders of the status quo have been claiming ad nauseam over the years that “the status quo [in Judea and Samaria] is unstable and unsustainable.” Be that as it may, the question is still deserving of a response.
The concept that the eastern “security border of the State of Israel [should] be located in the Jordan Valley in the broadest sense of that term” was first presented by former general Yigal Allon soon after the Six Day War in 1967. It formed an integral part of several of the center-left Labor party election platforms from 1974 to 1987 and was reaffirmed by former chief-of-staff and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in his last speech to the Knesset in 1995.
Rabin’s protégé and also a former chief-of-staff, Ehud Barak, was the first Israeli prime minister to propose “security arrangements” (electronic equipment and foreign troops) in lieu of Israeli soldiers in the Jordan Valley. When Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presented his final-status map to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2008, it showed no permanent Israeli presence there.
Many, if not most, Israeli generals, including former chief-of-staff and current Defense Minister Benny Gantz, as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (himself a former officer in the Sayeret Matkal special operations unit), still believe that “security arrangements” are in no way an adequate substitute for the Israel Defense Forces and are very leery of placing international troops at the border. After all, the deployment of UN troops in the Sinai after 1956 and in Southern Lebanon after 1978 (especially after 2006) have been resounding and consequential failures.
It is, therefore, vital to take advantage of the presence of the most Israel-friendly US president ever to set the Jordan Valley as Israel’s permanent eastern border. Even if a future president changes the official position of the United States, the marker will have been set that an Israeli unity government excluded that area from possible future negotiations and did so with the formal concurrence of at least one US administration. Such a historic opportunity did not exist in the previous half century and may not recur ever again.
Extending sovereignty to the Jordan Valley also bolsters the odds for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Arguably, the main reason why all previous efforts to broker peace between the two sides failed is that a consistent pattern had been established: every time the Palestinians said no, they subsequently received a better offer. The major innovation of the “deal of the century” is the message it sends to the Palestinians that time is no longer on their side. By changing the paradigm, there is a small possibility that the Palestinians might seriously negotiate a realistic end of the conflict — and strengthen Israel’s position if they do not.
Furthermore, the likelihood that King Abdullah will be toppled or cease security cooperation with Israel if Israeli law is applied to the Jordan Valley is extremely small. On the one hand, the king cannot be labeled an accomplice with respect to Israel’s decision, especially after the strong protestations and eventual retaliatory measures that he will assuredly undertake. On the other hand, severing security ties with Israel would constitute an existential threat to his regime.
In summary, the democratically elected Israeli government may deem it important to seize a unique opportunity to establish a permanent and secure eastern border with the imprimatur of a US administration, erase the misconception that such a defensible border could be exchanged for any combination of “security arrangements,” and set in motion the first plan with any realistic chance of achieving a resolution of the long-running conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. Whether all that is worth the potential political, economic, and humanitarian cost is, as Secretary of State Pompeo put it recently, a “[decision] for the Israelis to make.”