When he addresses a joint session of Congress next week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is sure to mention the Jordan River Valley. He usually does when the topic is peace talks and Israel’s security. Netanyahu is among those who insist that, as a condition for withdrawing Israeli troops from the high ground that makes up most of the occupied West Bank, Israel must be allowed to keep troops on the Eastern boundary of any nascent Palestinian state. The stated goal is to prevent any smuggling from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan of missiles or mortars that might rain down on Israel’s main population centers from the West Bank as they have from southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip after Israel pulled out of both.
But Israel has other reasons to linger in the valley. A new report from B’Tselem, the premiere Israeli organization monitoring human rights in the Palestinian territories, lays out the economic interests Israel has invested the Jordan Valley since taking it over it in the Six Day War of 1967 – despite international law barring occupying powers from exploiting native resources.
At this point, Israel bars Palestinians from 77 percent of their land in the Valley and the northern shores of the Dead Sea, where Israeli companies such as the Ahava cosmetic company profit from the sea’s mineral-intensive mud (and face boycotts in Europe and elsewhere). Israel also takes an enormous amount of the water, diverting much of it to the 37 Israeli settlements in the area. In fact, the water allotted to 9,400 settlers equals one third of the water for all 2.5 million Palestinians on the entire West Bank. Israel also has taken control of what lucrative tourism sites exist in the area, including Qasr Alyahud, where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.