Israel must keep its “security border” in the Jordan Valley in any final peace deal with the Palestinians, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.
Peace requires that the sides agree on “a security [framework] that can defend the peace and defend the State of Israel in case that peace frays. These security arrangements are important to us, and we continue to insist strongly on them,” Netanyahu told the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday morning.
The security arrangements “will no doubt include many things,” Netanyahu added, “but first among them will be that the State of Israel’s security border remains along the Jordan [river].”
It was unclear from Netanyahu’s statement what he meant by a “security border,” and whether it included maintaining Israeli sovereignty over all or part of the Jordan Valley area.
Israel’s control of the valley, which runs north-south along Israel’s eastern side and part of which forms the border between the West Bank and Jordan, has been a key point of contention in the ongoing US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, according to reports.
Netanyahu has recently ordered the government to begin construction on a major upgrade of the existing security fence along the Jordanian border, including in the West Bank section of the border.
On Sunday, the Maariv newspaper reported that Netanyahu ordered the completion of remaining sections of a sophisticated border fence on the Golan Heights and the development of a more robust fence on the Jordanian border as soon as construction is complete on the southernmost section of the Egyptian border fence in the Eilat area.
The official reason given for the new fence: the immense wave of some 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war in their country for Jordan. There is real fear in Israel that some of those refugees may attempt to infiltrate into Israel from Jordan. The border between the two states is Israel’s longest.
In 2011, Netanyahu told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the danger of infiltration across the Jordanian frontier is real. “We must maintain the Israeli presence in the [Jordan] Valley, on the Egyptian border and along the Jordanian border. The government is examining the possibility of constructing a fence,” he said at the time.
But Maariv reported on unsourced speculation that the fence also marks an Israeli attempt to send a message that it will not quickly surrender control over the strategic valley in the framework of peace talks.
In Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu also repeated his calls for the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel as the Jewish nation-state.
For peace to emerge between Israel and the Palestinians, “they must recognize the right of the Jewish people to its own state in its homeland,” Netanyahu said in the meeting, which commemorated the 96th anniversary of the issuing of the Balfour Declaration in 1917. “The refusal to recognize us is the root of the conflict,” he insisted.
The Balfour Declaration was a letter written by British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour that stated: “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
“What this means,” the prime minister added, “is that [the Palestinians] must acknowledge, in the framework of a final settlement, the rescinding of their national demands — the right of return or any other national demand — from the State of Israel.”