The area is a ‘strategic asset’
Speaking at a news conference near Tel Aviv, Netanyahu asserted that along with the Golan Heights, the valley and northern Dead Sea are “the eastern border of the State of Israel.” He was referring to how the Jordan River separates Jordan, to the east, from Israel and the West Bank.
The river flows south from the Sea of Galilee for about 300 kilometres and feeds into the Dead Sea. Israel considers that natural barrier “an essential strategic asset” to ensure its security and prevent weapon-smuggling by Palestinian militants into the West Bank.
It’s also a big swath of land. According to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea comprise almost 30 per cent of the West Bank, much of which is already under Israeli control.
“This is the eastern defensive wall that guarantees that we will never again be a mere few miles wide,” Netanyahu said.
Much of the area in question is open, arable land that the Israeli Army already uses for operations. The area also has enormous potential for agricultural and energy projects, among other uses. The Dead Sea draws tourists, and salt and minerals are mined there.
Israeli settlements have spread in the area
Israel seized the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war. Most of the world considers it occupied territory and Israeli settlements there to be illegal. Nonetheless, about 200 settlements have been established in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as their capital under a two-state solution to the conflict.
The Jewish Virtual Library, a website run by the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, said that efforts to establish Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley date back to shortly after the 1967 war. The thinking was that if the area were settled by Jewish people, then Jerusalem, the disputed holy city regarded by Israel as its capital, would be more central in relation to the rest of the country.
In a diplomatic victory for Netanyahu, President Donald Trump moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last year, despite international criticism given Jerusalem’s status has not been resolved.
Palestinian leaders have said that the settlements are among the major obstacles to any possible peace agreement with Israel.
According to B’Tselem, nearly 90 per cent of the Jordan Valley and the area around the northern Dead Sea has already been designated as part of what is known as Area C, meaning it is under full Israeli security and civil control. B’Tselem says Israel has restricted Palestinians from building or even entering much of the land. By its count, in 2016, there were about 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 settlers living there, B’Tselem said.
The areas not designated as Area C include the city of Jericho, which would not be annexed under Netanyahu’s proposal.
Netanyahu wants to redraw Israel’s borders
The Prime Minister argued that his plan would give Israel “secure, permanent borders” to the east for the first time in its history. He said he wanted to seize on the Trump administration’s openness to Israeli annexation of at least parts of the West Bank.
In an interview in June, the US ambassador, David Friedman, asserted that Israel has a right to annex at least some of the West Bank, a view that is rejected by many other countries.
The New York Times