What Israel’s Jordan Valley annexation plan means for a Palestinian state

Palestinians say Netanyahu’s plan will have serious implications for a Palestinian state’s viability with regard to water, agriculture, natural resources and tourism. (AFP)
Updated 13 September 2019

What Israel’s Jordan Valley annexation plan means for a Palestinian state

  • Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to carry out his threat if he wins the Sept 17 election
  • The annexation plan will destroy all hope of a viable state, say Palestinian officials

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.


Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

Updated 55 min 6 sec ago

Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

  • Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon
  • The UN food agency said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items

BEIRUT: Syria’s pound hit record lows on the black market Saturday trading at over 2,300 to the dollar, less than a third of its official value, traders said, ahead of new US sanctions.
Three traders in Damascus told AFP by phone that the dollar bought more than 2,300 Syrian pounds for the first time, though the official exchange rate remained fixed at around 700 pounds to the greenback.
After nine years of war, Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon.
Last month, the central bank warned it would clamp down on currency “manipulators.”
Analysts said concerns over the June 17 implementation of the US Caesar Act, which aims to sanction foreign persons who assist the Syrian government or help in post-war reconstruction, also contributed to the de fact devaluation.
Zaki Mehchy, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House, said foreign companies — including from regime ally Russia — were already opting not to take any risks.
With money transactions requiring two to three weeks to implement, “today’s transactions will be paid after June 17,” he said.
Heiko Wimmen, Syria project director at the conflict tracker Crisis Group, said that with the act coming into force, “doing business with Syria will become even more difficult and risky.”
Both analysts said the fall from grace of top business tycoon Rami Makhlouf despite being a cousin of the president was also affecting confidence.
“The Makhlouf saga is spooking the rich,” Wimmen said.
After the Damascus government froze assets of the head of the country’s largest mobile phone operator and slapped a travel ban on him, the wealthy feel “nobody is safe,” he said.
They are thinking “you better get your assets and perhaps yourself out preparing for further shakedowns,” he said.
Mehchy said the impact of the pound’s decline and ensuing price hikes on Syrians would be “catastrophic.”
Most of Syria’s population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations, and food prices have doubled over the past year.
The UN food agency’s Jessica Lawson said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items such as rice, pasta and lentils.
“These price increases risk pushing even more people into hunger, poverty and food insecurity as Syrians’ purchasing power continues to erode,” the World Food Programme spokeswoman said.
“Families may be forced to cut the quality and quantity of food they buy.”