Thursday 19 September 2019

Palestinians vow 'never to give up land' Israel covets

Spotlight: Israeli-Arab Knesset member Ayman Odeh (left) uses a phone to take a picture of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Getty Images
Spotlight: Israeli-Arab Knesset member Ayman Odeh (left) uses a phone to take a picture of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Getty Images

Adel Abu Nimeh and Suleiman Al-Khalidi

Palestinians tilling the fertile Jordan Valley yesterday said they had been rooted for generations to the West Bank land that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to annex, and they vowed never to give it up.

"We tell Netanyahu, and whoever follows him, you will not break the Palestinians' will. You will never break our will. Never, never," said Hassan Al-Abedi (55), a farmer who lives in the village of Jiftlik.

The Jordan Valley. Photo: Getty Images
The Jordan Valley. Photo: Getty Images

"It's our parents' and grandparents' land. We will hold on to it no matter what it costs," he said.

Drawing condemnation from Palestinian and other Arab leaders, Mr Netanyahu announced on Tuesday that he intended to "apply Israeli sovereignty" to the Jordan Valley and adjacent northern Dead Sea if he prevailed in what is shaping up as a tough battle for re-election on September 17.

Palestinians seek to establish a state in all of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and their leaders said Israeli annexation would violate international law and effectively nullify 1990 interim peace deals that included security co-operation.

In Israel, which captured the West Bank in the 1967 war, Mr Netanyahu's declaration was widely seen as a bid to siphon away support from far-right election rivals who have long advocated annexation of Jewish settlements in the area.

Political commentators said Mr Netanyahu had been emboldened to announce his plan by his close relationship with US President Donald Trump, who has already recognised Israeli sovereignty over a strategic slice of occupied territory - the Golan Heights - that Israel annexed in 1981.

Some 53,000 Palestinians and around 12,800 Israeli settlers live in the part of the Jordan Valley that Mr Netanyahu intends to annex, according to Peace Now, a settlement watchdog. The main Palestinian city in the region is Jericho, with around 28 villages and smaller Bedouin communities.

Palestinians often refer to the Jordan Valley as their "breadbasket". In his speech on Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu described it as Israel's eastern border.

The valley, which at 2,400 sq km accounts for nearly 30pc of the West Bank, has dozens of Palestinian farms as well as open areas which the Palestinian Authority has sought to develop for solar energy projects and industrial zones.

There are some 30 mainly agricultural Jewish settlements in the area, along with 18 smaller outposts, Peace Now says.

"It's impossible to have a Palestinian state without the Jordan Valley," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters in an interview from his office in Jericho.

Israel has long said it intends to maintain military control in the Jordan Valley, which abuts the Jordanian border, under any future peace accord with the Palestinians, and there is broad Israeli political consensus over the issue.

The last round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down in 2014. The Trump administration is expected to release its peace plan after Israel's election, and it is still unclear whether it would adhere to previous US support for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. Palestinians have boycotted the American efforts, citing what they call Washington's pro-Israel bias.

A US official briefed on diplomatic contacts with Israel said the Trump administration was informed about Mr Netanyahu's Jordan Valley statement ahead of time.

Asked whether the United States would support Mr Netanyahu's planned annexation of the territory, a US official told Reuters: "He's a politician making a political statement." Mr Netanyahu is fighting for his political life after an inconclusive election in April. His right-wing Likud party is running neck and neck in opinion polls with former armed forces chief Benny Gantz's Blue and White.

Middle Eastern nations have expressed alarm at the plan.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on Twitter: "Killing all chances for peace for electoral purposes is irresponsible, dangerous. International community must state it rejects such futile attempts to consolidate occupation."

The Arab League said it "considers his announcement a dangerous development and a new Israeli aggression by declaring the intention to violate the international law". It added: "The league regards these statements as undermining the chances of any progress in the peace process, and they will torpedo all its foundations."

Israeli aircraft struck in Gaza yesterday, hours after rockets from the Palestinian enclave triggered sirens that forced Mr Netanyahu off the stage at an election rally in Israel.

The Israeli military said 15 targets were hit, including a weapons manufacturing facility, a naval compound used by militants and tunnels belonging to Hamas, the dominant armed force in Gaza.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Irish Independent

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