Breaking Through the Impasse on the Jordan Valley

Modest Proposal To Resolve Israeli and Palestinian Concerns

In the Valley: The border area with Jordan is one of vital security interest to Israel and vital political interest for the Palestinians.
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In the Valley: The border area with Jordan is one of vital security interest to Israel and vital political interest for the Palestinians.

By Amitai Etzioni

Published January 20, 2014, issue of January 17, 2014.
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Suggestions have been made to use the forces of a third party such as NATO to ensure that the border with Jordan is not overrun with terrorists, trucks carryings missiles or tank brigades. However, Israel holds that NATO’s record in securing borders, in Iraq and especially in Afghanistan, is far from reassuring. And the Israeli diplomat Abba Eban famously observed of the U.N. Peace Keeping Force positioned on the border between Egypt and Israel (which left its post in 1967 as Egypt threatened to invade) — it was like an umbrella that folds up when it rains.

Instead, what is called for is a new force, composed of a combination of Israeli and Palestinian border police that would have their own uniforms, flag and command. Call it the Palm Brigade. It would not violate sovereignty, as it would not be a foreign force but one composed and ruled by both sides, and such forces have proved to be effective. Such a joint border patrol would be similar to the largely successful patrols that were carried out between 1945 and 1955, when the United States, the United Kingdom and France patrolled the center of Vienna jointly with the Soviet Union — a nation that was already emerging as a Cold War adversary.

Moreover, there is precedent for such operations in the area at issue. The 1993 Oslo peace accord established a series of joint patrols to be carried out by Israelis and Palestinians in regions where political control was shared by the two sides. Such patrols were implemented in 1994 in both Gaza and Jericho and, in their first 21 months of operations, successfully thwarted roughly 80 attacks against Israelis. These operations were expanded to include the city of Hebron in 1997 and continued through the end of the year 2000, when a security incident led to their cessation. During their operation, the patrols reportedly served to enhance cooperation between the two sides, to soften the attitudes of those whose security they ensured and to reduce overall Israeli-Palestinian tensions by focusing on common threats.

One may say that this information is dated. However, there is strong evidence that the Palestinian security forces have cooperated with Israeli ones in recent years. Thus the reliable Congressional Research Service reports, “By most accounts, the P.A. forces receiving training have shown increased professionalism and have helped substantially improve law and order and lower the profile of terrorist organizations in West Bank cities.” And improvements in the P.A. security forces’ leadership and capacity may factor into Israeli data that showed a 96% decrease in West Bank terrorist attacks from 2007 to 2012.

Security is hardly the only area in which binational solutions can and should be considered. Israel and the P.A. (and Jordan) just agreed to work together to save the Dead Sea. And various suggestions have been made to turn contested border areas into bi-national parks. So one can envision one day the flag of the Palm Brigade flying over other projects, but resolving the security issues surrounding the Jordan border is the most urgent one.

Amitai Etzioni is a professor at George Washington University and author of “Hot Spots: American Foreign Policy in a Post-Human-Rights World” (Transaction, 2012).


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