The headline on the official Palestinian news agency reporting the Palestinian cabinet’s August 19 decisions appeared in red font. “The government will support any university graduate who is willing to work or live in the Jordan Valley.” In the details, the Palestinian council of ministers endorsed a plan that supports Palestinians willing to move to Area “C”, which are under total Israeli administrative and security control.
The announcement was music to my ears. I have been arguing for some time that the next Palestinian battleground will be the Jordan Valley and other areas, which comprise 60 per cent of the West Bank, but are outside the control of the Ramallah-based government.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has stated after Israelis demolished homes in Sur Baher, which has been marked as Area “A”, that if Israelis erase Areas A and B, then they will also erase Area C. Area A are supposed to be under full Palestinian administrative control. This obviously includes the right to give housing permits.
With the Oslo Accords becoming obsolete, and in light of the unilateral Israeli decisions regarding Jewish settlement expansion, Palestinian house demolitions and land confiscations, the Palestinian government had to make its move.
No details were given by the Palestinian government on how it plans to support those brave Palestinians who decide to take the initiative and move to Area C. If I was the prime minister, I would institute a wide-ranging plan to distribute land deeds to any Palestinian who is willing to live and work on these lands. There is no legal obstacle for Palestinians to be present on any of the lands occupied in 1967. While the wall has meant that large strips of Palestinian lands are physically inaccessible, the Jordan Valley, which was the target of the Palestinian government’s decision, is not restricted by any physical barrier.
Large strips of the Jordan Valley are desert like, lacking water and basic services, but in today’s world you can move a prefabricated home, or set up a tent, put up solar panels for electricity, truck water in and pick up the Internet from cyberspace. Obviously, such services would be expensive, but caging five million Palestinians in less than 40 per cent of the West Bank and Gaza makes little sense. The natural growth areas for Palestinians are areas demarked by Israel as totally and directly under its security and administrative control.
There is no doubt that a massive Palestinian population movement in this direction under any protocol will be met by Israeli opposition, which will make a clear shift of the struggle and send home a clear message that Palestinians yearn to have their own state on the entire areas occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and the Gaza Strip.
In its regular reporting on life in the West Bank and Gaza, the World Bank said that Palestinian unemployment has been rising, especially among the youth. “Due to a steep deterioration in Gaza and a slowdown in the West Bank, the Palestinian economy witnessed no real growth in 2018. The unemployment rate was 31 per cent in 2018, with 52 per cent of Gaza’s labour force unemployed, including two out of every three youths.”
The decision by the government to encourage young Palestinians to consider moving to the Jordan Valley is a powerful response to the ongoing legal limbo that has arisen as a result of the vague future of the Palestinian territories due to the deterioration of the Oslo Accords.
With the political side taking this important decision, a number of other sectors have to begin drawing plans to turn this idea into a reality. Priority areas need to be identified, basic services need to be provided and administrative support needs to be provided to those brave Palestinians who might be interested in a move to the Jordan Valley. The civil society needs to draw up ideas, international donors must dedicate funds to support such individuals and the population as a whole must be willing to buy and interact with whatever products will be produced in these new localities.
With the battle field moving to Area C, Israeli occupiers are not going to be quiet. For such an idea to work, it must be wide and deep in order to make it difficult, if not impossible, for Israel to stop it. A strong, large wave of people moving to the Jordan Valley could become a powerful, unstoppable national initiative that will be yet another brick in the future Palestinian independent state.