Will Israel Annex the Jordan Valley?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

By Middle East Policy

Fadi Nahhas argues that the push to “impose sovereignty,” which could kill the two-state solution, is motivated by securitization, ideology, economics, and demographics. 

Violence this year in the occupied territories has hit the highest level in about two decades, including recent shooting attacks against Israelis by Palestinian groups and raids by the Israeli Defense Forces on towns in the West Bank. The uptick comes amid Israel’s moves to expand settlements, furthering the goals of far-right members of the governing coalition, who advocate full annexation of the West Bank. 

“The attitude of the State of Israel that there are two states here is a mistake,” said Israeli Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu in a radio interview last week. “We should impose sovereignty on Judea and Samaria [the right-wing term for the West Bank].” 

In the first seven months of the year, the Associated Press reports, more than 150 Palestinians have fallen at the hands of Israelis in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, while 26 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians. 

The only real internal disputes in Israel about this process—which the United States believes will doom the prospects for a two-state solution—are whether annexation will occur officially or through the unofficial tactics of gradually expanding settlements, argues Fadi Nahhas in the Summer 2023 issue of Middle East Policy

Anticipation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s potential unilateral annexation of the West Bank has reached a fever pitch. One of Israel’s most consistent supporters, Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times, has written several pieces this summer lamenting this move as the downfall of the peace process and contrary to Israel’s self-interest.  

Nahhas analyzes Israel’s past and current approaches to controlling the Jordan Valley, a region that makes up a majority of the West Bank, and the motivations behind its drive toward annexation. These include economic, ideological, and demographic concerns. 

Nahhas contends that the state generally uses “securitization” to make the case that the area is crucial to its self-defense and cannot be ceded to the Palestinians. Israeli administrations across the political spectrum have long emphasized the importance of the valley as a buffer between Jordan to the east and Palestinian communities in Nablus and Hebron to the west.  

Ideology plays a role, as well, as proponents of annexation seek a capital in a united Jerusalem, with no chance for the eastern part of the city to be the capital of a future state of Palestine. 

Economics is a further motivator. Control over water and agriculture are central to the area’s commercial activity, and the Dead Sea is rich in resources vital to the lucrative tourist industry. By increasing the number of settlements, Israel has created a “dependence of the local population on the Israeli agricultural economy,” says Nahhas, a lecturer at Beit Berl College in Israel.  

With roots tracing back to the 1967 Allon Plan, the process of settlement expansion has been one of “gradual annexation,” especially in recent decades, Nahhas shows. 

The gradualist approach has unfolded in two parts: the militarization of land and the prevention of Palestinian construction and development. Between 2017 and 2021, the Israeli Defense Ministry issued 33 building permits for Palestinians in the West Bank while demolishing 1,169 structures. 

These demolitions have been met with resistance and warnings about violent backlash within Israel and Palestine. Potential repercussions from neighboring Arab states have been an obstacle to proponents of annexation.  

Even with these concerns, and having achieved a near consensus for the plan, Nahhas observes, “the Israeli government has not faced any issues with its gradual annexation, carried out over decades.” Internal pushback revolves only “around the timing and execution of annexation, not on the idea of total security control,” the scholar writes. 

The future of the Jordan Valley factors heavily into the peace process, and Nahhas asserts that an effort toward annexation “promises to be one of the most critical strategic turning points in the contemporary Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The analysis ends with this warning: 

[Opponents inside Israel] regard it as being determined by tactical issues and believe that the decision-making process discounts the long-term consequences, strategic and existential, that annexation might have by changing the rules of the game. Annexation through unilateral action would sound the death knell of the two-state solution and the status quo. 


Among the major takeaways readers can find in Nahhas’s Middle East Policy article, “Assessing Israel’s Motives in Annexing the Jordan Valley”:  


  • Israel is moving ahead with plans to annex the Jordan Valley (68 percent of the West Bank, from the Dead Sea to the eastern border with Jordan) despite opposition from some corners of the defense establishment. 

    • This would eliminate any possibility of establishing a Palestinian state (even on a small part of historic Palestine).  

    • Annexation could strain ties with Jordan, hamper regional diplomacy, and lead to the deterioration of relations with the West

  • Successive Israeli governments have pushed for annexation. There remain some key obstacles: 

    • fear of Palestinian resistance 

    • concern about having to grant citizenship to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians 

    • warnings of backlash among Arab states, especially those that have signed the Abraham Accords, including the UAE. 

  • Because of this, the approach to annexation has historically been gradual, featuring two key elements: 

    • militarization of land, allowing total control over territories 

    • prevention of Palestinian construction and development in the Jordan Valley. 

  • Internal opposition to complete annexation, within the security establishment and the opposition, stems primarily from the assumption that keeping the peace with the Palestinians, along with the idea of a two-state solution, has preserved the status quo and allowed Israel to impose control over the West Bank. 

  • Israel has used a discourse of securitization to make the case for annexation, though it has many motives: political-ideological, military-security, demographic, and economic.  

    • Political-ideological: The government seeks to prevent a contiguous Palestinian state and to establish a united Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, while maintaining a Palestinian Authority operating under severe constraints. 

    • Military-security: The Jordan Valley is a buffer to prevent a Palestinian state extending toward Jordan (Amman covertly supports Israel’s position) and to overcome Israel’s narrow defensive depth, which leaves population centers at risk of attack. 

    • Demographic: Preserving a Jewish state requires extending the eastern border to the Jordan River, as well as dispersing the Israeli citizenry across the Galilee, the Negev Desert, and Jerusalem, instead of concentrating it only on the coast. 

    • Economic 

      • Control over water: Annexation of the Jordan Valley would strip Palestinians of their water rights; Israel claims 90 percent of groundwater sources in the valley.  

      • Control over agriculture:  

        • The valley contributes 60 percent of gross agricultural output in the West Bank, and its high-end date production can compete on the global market. 

        • Israel’s taking over fertile lands forces a large proportion of the Palestinian population to work in settlements instead of subsisting from local production. 

      • The Dead Sea: Palestinians estimate they are deprived of about $1 billion in annual revenue from the sea’s resources, including tourism and products made from its mineral-rich waters. 


You can read Fadi Nahhas’s article, “Assessing Israel’s Motives in Annexing the Jordan Valley,” in the Summer 2023 issue of Middle East Policy.

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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