JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s threat to annex the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea area of the occupied West Bank has left Palestinian development planners in disarray.
The threat, if implemented, will rule out the two-state solution as a political concept, and have serious implications for a Palestinian state’s viability with regard to water, agriculture, natural resources and tourism.
Netanyahu vowed on Tuesday that if he is returned to office in the Sept. 17 election, he will “immediately” extend “Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea.” The Jordan Valley accounts for about one-third of the West Bank.
Opinion polls indicate that Netanyahu’s Likud party is neck and neck with the opposition Blue and White party, and may struggle to form a coalition. His controversial pledge could get him the backing of right-wing parties.
Jad Ishaq, director general of the Applied Research Institute, said the land that Netanyahu referred to in his televised speech accounts for a big chunk of the West Bank.
“From the standpoint of Palestinian agriculture, this is the breadbasket,” Ishaq told Arab News.
Around 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 Israeli settlers live in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
The main Palestinian city is Jericho, with about 28 villages and smaller communities.
Ishaq, who advises Palestinian officials, said Netanyahu’s threat, if carried out, would kill off the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.
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“Simply put, this will deny us our water rights in the Jordan River, and limit our potential for mining
our national resources and for recreational tourism in the Dead Sea,” he added. Ishaq put the potential annual income from these activities at an estimated $2 billion.
“This Israeli annexation plan stunts the sustainability, contiguity and integrity of a future Palestinian state,” he said.
“The plan leaves it without any control over the borders with Jordan, and converts Palestinian areas into an entity comprising cantons that won’t survive.”
Depriving Palestinians of the right to derive financial advantage from Dead Sea minerals would amount to a major economic blow, Ishaq said.
“At present, Dead Sea minerals are being divided between Jordan and Israel. Each country earns an average of $1.5 billion annually,” he added.
Sani Meo, publisher of the tourism monthly This Week in Palestine, said access to the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley is vital for the development of Palestinian tourism. “There’s huge potential for tourism here that would be destroyed,” he told Arab News.
Meo expressed concern that the absence of internal tourism will exacerbate existing problems.
“The only opening for us is to the east, and now that’s being blocked,” he said. “We can’t get to Gaza and we can’t travel to Lebanon. Every time we discover a strategic opening, they (the Israelis) shut it.”
Netanyahu’s threat “will cause more tensions. This is short-sightedness on the part of the Israelis,” Meo said.
“By destroying the small signs of hope, the Israelis are building up more pressure inside a veritable pressure cooker. They’re unable to understand that it will eventually bring about an explosion.”
Israel captured the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, from Jordan in the 1967 war. More than 2.5 million Palestinians now live there, in addition to nearly 700,000 Jewish settlers.