Amman said to back Israeli demands on Jordan Valley

Israel expected to coordinate with its neighbor on convincing the US to accept long-term IDF presence, report says

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

A view of the Jordan Valley (CC-BY heatkernel/Flickr/File)
A view of the Jordan Valley (CC-BY heatkernel/Flickr/File)

Jordan has been pushing the United States to support Israel’s position that it needs to maintain a security presence in the Jordan Valley under any agreement with the Palestinians.

Israel is expected to coordinate with Amman to drive home the message this week to the Americans — especially Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in the region Thursday for talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials — that keeping the IDF on the Jordan River is crucial to regional stability, a Thursday report in the Israeli daily Maariv said.

Kerry landed in Israel Wednesday night and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday morning. According to US officials, Kerry brought with him a West Bank security plan that he intends to present in meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders this week.

Israel insists on having an IDF presence on the Israeli-Jordanian border, which gives the narrow country some strategic depth and early warning on its eastern border, and rejected an American proposal to place an international force there.

A senior Israeli official told Maariv that Netanyahu is determined to finish building a security fence along the border with Jordan, a move Amman sees as important to its own security as well. Israel is worried about the proliferation, through Jordan, of arms to a future Palestinian state, which Jerusalem has insisted remain demilitarized.

In a reference to his demands that Israel maintain a buffer zone in the Jordan Valley, Netanyahu said during a Knesset address in October that Israeli negotiators “will have to convince the Palestinians to adjust their demands to the circumstances around us.”

Israel must maintain a security presence in the Jordan Valley “precisely as Yitzhak Rabin insisted,” Netanyahu told the Knesset during a special session marking the 18th anniversary of the late prime minister’s assassination. “What was vital then is even more vital today, given the rise of Islamic extremism and Iran’s takeover of territory we relinquished in the [South Lebanon] security zone and Gaza.”

Israeli negotiators offered in October to transfer sovereignty of the Jordan Valley to the Palestinian Authority, which would in turn lease it back to Israel. Palestinian representatives rejected the idea out of hand.

Hours ahead of Kerry’s arrival Wednesday, former Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Ishtayeh said that wide gaps made a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians impossible. Ishtayeh, a senior aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who quit the Palestinian negotiating team a month ago over Israeli settlement construction, said he believed US mediation was “unbalanced” in favor of Israel.

While noting that he was expressing his personal views, Ishtayeh urged other world powers to join the talks as Kerry prepared to return to the region to try to salvage the troubled negotiations.

Under heavy US pressure, peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians resumed in July after a three-year hiatus. Although they have continued out of the media spotlight, reports have mounted that the two sides have reached an impasse.

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