The plan to annex Jordan Valley to Israel was not discussed between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during their meeting in Lisbon earlier this week, asserted the US State Department’s top Middle East official David Schenker.
He added that the US government position has long been that the ultimate disposition of territory is to be determined between the parties through negotiations.
Schenker's remarks contradict a statement made earlier by Netanyahu claiming he discussed the matter with Pompeo.
After meeting Pompeo on Thursday, Netanyahu said Israel had “the full right” to take this step, but stressed that such a move was impossible during a transitional period in which there is no Israeli government.
The PM described his meeting with Pompeo as “of great importance” to Israel's security, adding that he hopes they would move forward with plans for a joint defense treaty.
Prior to the meeting, he announced he would focus in his discussions on the Iranian issue, the formation of a defense alliance and a future US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley.
Netanyahu insists on annexing the Valley, claiming it is a border area and holds security significance for Israel.
During his negotiations with the Blue and White party to form a joint government, Netanyahu asked that he start the first period as prime minister in order to annex the Jordan Valley, but the negotiations failed.
Currently, there is no permanent government after the coalition voted on dissolving the Knesset and called for early elections following two electoral rounds that already failed to produce a cabinet.
The Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea span some 160,000 hectares, comprising almost 30 percent of the West Bank. In 2016, approximately 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 settlers lived there.
Israel exploits almost all of the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea for its own needs and bars Palestinians from entering or using about 85 percent of the area.
The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B’Tselem) said that Palestinians are not allowed to use the land for housing, agricultural construction, public buildings, or infrastructure.
“The legal grounds cited for this sweeping ban vary. So much so that, in some cases, the same land has been given several different designations,” B’Tselem said in a report.
Almost 50 percent of the area is defined as “state land”, more than half of which was already designated as such under Jordanian rule, before Israel occupied the area in 1967.
In addition, about 46 percent of the area have been declared closed military zones, including the municipal jurisdictions of Israeli settlements and 11 firing zones.
The report also noted that some 20 percent of the area have been declared nature reserves and other areas have been allocated to settlements’ regional councils.
It explained that the ban on Palestinian construction and development in the Jordan Valley takes a particularly harsh toll on the roughly 10,000 residents of more than 50 Palestinian communities in Area C.
The authorities deny these communities any possibility whatsoever of lawful construction to meet the needs of their population, and refuse to connect them to water and power supplies.
In recent years, and especially since early 2013, the Israeli military has periodically ordered the temporary evacuation of the communities located in areas it declared firing zones, claiming the military needs to train in these particular areas.
Residents have been served military orders requiring them to vacate their homes for various periods of time, ranging from several hours to two whole days, warning that refusal to comply will result in forced removal, expropriation of their livestock, and retroactive fines covering the costs of the removal.
B’Tselem stated that Israel is trying to prevent any Palestinian development or presence in the region.