US offered to guard Jordan Valley, Palestinians say

Report comes as Kerry is set to present his framework agreement; Israel has rejected an international force in the past

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu observes the Jordan Valley with IDF officers during a tour in 2011. (Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu observes the Jordan Valley with IDF officers during a tour in 2011. (Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)

American troops could guard the border between a Palestinian state and Jordan, US Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly proposed to Palestinian officials, amid discussions of a security plan for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

The London-based pan-Arab daily A-Sharq al-Awsat on Monday quoted Palestinian sources to the effect that the Americans had changed their position, moving closer to Palestinian demands in the face of stiff Palestinian resistance to the idea of a continued IDF presence on the border.

Israel insists on retaining a military presence on the Jordanian border, giving the narrow country some strategic depth and early warning on its eastern frontier, and has rejected a previous American proposal to place an international force there.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Avi Mizrahi, a former commander of the IDF in West Bank, said earlier this week that Israel’s security requires a security presence along the Jordan River.

“I wouldn’t rely on foreign forces,” he said. “Our history shows that every time the deployment of international forces was tried in one form or another, their output in the field was not what we wanted. We need to rely on ourselves.”

Channel 10 revealed last week that the Palestinian negotiating team had rejected an American peace plan that would involve an Israeli military presence along the Jordan Valley highway, located five kilometers (three miles) from the Jordanian border, after the establishment of a future Palestinian state.

The Palestinian sources cited by Monday’s A-Sharq al-Awsat report also indicated that Israel would maintain intelligence devices along the border, but no soldiers.

The newspaper quoted Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki as saying that the Palestinians could not take an official stance until they received a formal letter from Washington presenting Kerry’s plan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is determined to finish building a security fence along the border with Jordan, a senior Israeli official previously told Maariv, 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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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