Recent news reports indicate that a major stumbling block in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is the insistence by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on maintaining a military force on the border between the future Palestinian state and Jordan, along the Jordan Valley.
This demand, and the fact that Secretary of State John Kerry seems to support it, so infuriated Mahmoud Abbas, head of the P.A., that Abbas went over Kerry’s head and appealed directly to President Obama. My suggestion for a way out of this impasse, which follows below, makes sense only once one realizes why both sides feel so strongly about this matter and why they both have good reasons for feeling this way.
Israel sees this force as necessary to prevent the new Palestinian state from turning into a Hamastan and to ensure, as Jackson Diehl put it in The Washington Post, “that the post-occupation West Bank does not become another Iranian base.” As Netanyahu recently said, “We don’t want to see rockets and missiles streaming into a Palestinian state and placed on the hills above Tel Aviv and the hills encircling Jerusalem. If Israel does not maintain a credible military and security presence in the Jordan Valley for the foreseeable future, this is exactly what could happen again.”
Given what happened in southern Lebanon, after Israel fully retreated (granted, from a place where it should not have lingered in the first place) and removed its forces behind an international border recognized by the United Nations and the nations of the world, one cannot deny that on this issue, Israel has a legitimate concern.
At the same time, the Palestinians hold strongly to the principle that Palestine will be a sovereign state. That suggests that the Palestinians “will not accept the presence of any Israeli soldiers within the borders of a Palestinian state,” said Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator in the peace process. Abbas also stated that, “All the talk about an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley is empty talk, because as long as there is a presence of the occupation army in the territory of Palestine, there will be no solution, and all the settlements on Palestinian lands must be removed.”
The Palestinian point is equally compelling. A sovereign state has a right to ensure that no foreign military forces be stationed in its confines.