Likud MK to establish Knesset lobby for sovereignty over Jordan Valley

Freshman MK Dan Illouz toured the strategic region with the Sovereignty Movement, which is demanding that Israeli law be applied there first.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Likud MK Dan Illouz is forming a lobby in the Knesset for the application of Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, with an eye to passing the law as soon as possible, he told a group led by the Sovereignty Movement and Israel Forever during a tour of the strategic region Sunday.

“We have a real right-wing government with a consensus about applying sovereignty over Judea and Samaria,” he said. “There are no more excuses, we must proceed. If at the end of our term we haven’t managed to do it, it will be a bitter regret for generations.”

Speaking for his co-head, MK Yosef Taieb of Shas, he added, “We decided to start with the Jordan Valley because it’s the area that receives the most consensus among the Israeli public. So we’ll start here and with God’s help, we’ll also get to [the rest of] Judea and Samaria.”

Former Likud legislator and current National Unity MK Sharren Haskell, who spoke briefly to the sovereignty supporters, agreed with Illouz’s assessment, saying, “There is no opposition versus coalition when it comes to the Valley…. It’s part of our heritage and religion and we have to take care of it.”

Standing next to the site on the Jordan River where Christians believe that Jesus was baptized, with dozens of tourists repeating the religious ritual for themselves, she noted, “If it stays under our control it will always be open to everyone.”

No Israeli government should give control over any part of it to any other group, she added, because then “we’ll lose it.” Having worked towards “Jordan Valley sovereignty first” for the past seven years in the Knesset, she said, she hoped that a bipartisan push would soon get the job done.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2019 promised to annex the Jordan Valley when negotiating the Covid-19-induced unity government with then-Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, who had also stated publicly his support for the idea, based on it being vital to Israel’s security. In the event, no such bill ever made it to the floor of the Knesset.

Former Deputy Chief of Staff and former head of the National Security Council, Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, who also once had command over the region, was the tour leader. Facing east at a lookout point that showed the spread of the valley below, he listed the three basic reasons why the region “must be ours.”

“Israel is only 40 miles wide,” he said. “The Jordan Valley gives us a minimum strategic depth. Second, it’s critical for the defense of our eastern border. The Jordanians are vulnerable, even if they don’t like to hear it – their army faces east, towards Iraq, not towards us – and we have saved them twice already.”

According to Dayan, they want Israel to control the area even if they don’t say so. “We’re their safety belt,” he said.

“There are only five passes through these mountains where large numbers of forces can get though easily [to the center of Israel] and we need to control all of them,” he continued. “We must control this area against terrorism too. If we allow any Hamas entry, they will let Iran in, and they’ll chip away at us.”

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Comparing the region to the settlements ringing the Gaza Strip that are Israel’s forward line against the Palestinian terrorists to the southeast, he said, “The Jordan Valley is the protective envelope of Israel.”

Panel discussion

A panel   livestreamed by Israel National News took place in the afternoon under the title “Sovereignty, from Vision to Reality,” with politicians and activists from both sides of the political spectrum speaking about the legal, strategic, historic and practical reasons for applying sovereignty first to the region.

Among them was Jordan Valley Regional Council head David Elhayani, who said that first and foremost it is “the implementation of our Zionist spirit to settle the land.” However, declaring sovereignty will also “prevent a Palestinian state from ever forming.”

Such a state, he said, “is an existential threat to the Jewish people, not just to Israel…. That is its significance. There already is a Palestinian state – Jordan. They are all invited to go there,” he said. “This government has a moral responsibility  to declare sovereignty. It’s a lifeline for our existence.”

Group leaders Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katsover stated their belief that it was the non-application of Israeli law to the Gush Katif and northern Samaria regions that enabled the “easy destruction” of their settlements in 2005’s Disengagement, which the right wing in Israel considers a tragedy that cannot be repeated.

The time was now, they said, because “it’s ours, the longer we hesitate the more the Arabs keep grabbing, it’s in the national consensus, there is so much land it will let people live near the center of the country [where most want to be] and there is no demographic problem,” as there are few Arabs in the Valley.

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Dayan had a slightly different take on sovereignty.

“We have full sovereignty now in the Negev, and in the Galilee,” he pointed out.  Referring to the current state of lawlessness in both areas, with rampant Bedouin and Arab crime, he asked rhetorically, “Are we happy with what’s going on there?”

Sovereignty is more than a declaration, it needs to be implemented with practical steps, he said.

The first had to be setting the border of the region at its maximum, which includes all the ridges surrounding the valley.

“We need 60,000 people living here, not 6,000, with or without sovereignty. So it can’t all be agriculture, although it’s very important to have a hold on the land. We need hotels, visitors’ centers, attractions,” he listed, noting that there isn’t a single one of those items in the Valley to bring tourists in large numbers who aren’t Christians going to their “third holiest site” in the land.

His other ideas included establishing an Authority for the Development and Promotion of the Jordan Valley within the Prime Minister’s Office, buying up land that is not already owned by the state, and developing infrastructure such as more and better roads to the region.

The Jordan Valley constitutes about 30% of Judea and Samaria. Some 90% of it is listed as Area C, under total Israel civilian and military control.