Israel-Palestinian talks: Why fate of Jordan Valley is key

Rows of date palms stand sentinel across the vast, flat stretch of land along the border between the West Bank and Jordan.

The view is dotted by dozens of Israeli settlements and Palestinian villages.

This is the Jordan Valley, captured by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War, most of it now still under Israel’s military and administrative control.

However the fertile, largely undeveloped strip – which makes up a quarter of the West Bank – would form an integral part of a future Palestinian state if the Palestinians have their way. Israel, on the other hand, says it cannot give up the valley for reasons of security.

Peace talks which resumed in August are being held in secrecy, but the fate of the valley is said to be one of the points on which Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are struggling to find a compromise

At a Palestinian family farm in Jiftlik the date harvest is just finishing.

Teenagers reach up from a platform to shake the ripe fruits from each tree while their elders sort them into crates.

The farm’s owner, Hazaa Daragma, tells me his date production suffers because of the Israeli occupation.

“The Israeli farmer has more benefits than the Palestinian farmer,” he says. “He has water and resources. He gets government services and marketing. He sells his dates to Europe. We can’t export so we just get a low price in the West Bank.”

Israel controls all crossing points between it and West Bank, making it by-and-large not economically viable for Palestinians to directly export their produce. Many sell their produce to Israeli companies, or rely on just trading within the West Bank itself.

Hazaa’s father, Majid, who is in his 80s, remembers better times when he cultivated crops by the River Jordan before the land there was confiscated and turned into an Israeli military zone.

“We used to have a lot of land. Now we have a small amount and they are surrounding us more and more,” he says.

The settlements are widely seen as a breach of international law, although Israel rejects this.

The first ones in this border area were set up with national security in mind. The valley is now home to about 9,000 settlers and 56,000 Palestinians.

“We are the people that the government sent to settle the Jordan Valley,” says David Elhayani, who chairs a regional council, representing more than 20 settlements.

“As a Jew, I tell you we can’t take any risks. The Jordan Valley has to remain under Israeli sovereignty. I’m not talking about our claims from the Bible. I’m talking about safety. By staying here we protect the people in Tel Aviv and all of Israel.”

“Something will happen between the Arab countries and Israel, this will be the defence line.”

Israeli soldiers can be seen on patrol near the border, and there are signposts warning of the presence of landmines.

Israeli border authorities also control Allenby Bridge, the only crossing to Jordan that can be used by Palestinians with West Bank ID.

The absence of information from inside the talks has not stopped the leaders on both sides from restating their long-held positions concerning the Jordan Valley.

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