Don't Let the Facts Get in the Way

The custom at the end of a war, and sometimes even during a temporary truce, is to conduct a strategic update, adapting policy to the latest spectrum of threats.

Thus, ever since the decision-makers concluded that the intifada was decided on the battlefield, they have been busy with discussions about the desired ramifications with regard to the political arrangements. The Israel Defense Forces began canceling call-ups for reservists slated to serve in the territories even before the cease-fire went into effect. The treasury already wants to pluck the fruits of victory and is looking for items to cut in the defense budget.

The feverish discussions about whether the army really did win the war in the territories, and the ramifications of whatever answer is provided, highlights how the military and political echelons have completely ignored the smashing military and political victory by the U.S. and its allies in Iraq.

It's easy to imagine the hysteria that would have struck us all if Saddam had come out of that conflict with the upper hand and intensified the threat to Israel's eastern flank. The IDF would have demanded enormous increases to its budget to strengthen the defenses in the eastern "security zone." The press would be writing about the settlers of the Jordan Valley, the heroes who are on the verge of bankruptcy. The right wouldn't miss an opportunity to remind the "Oslo criminals" that Ehud Barak was ready to give up sovereignty in the Jordan Valley at Camp David. Proponents of the "perimeter fence," the eastern separation fence meant to turn the Palestinian state into a Bantustan, would be waving the banner of the military (and civilian) presence along the Jordan River, about how we need Israeli soldiers between Iraqi soldiers and Kfar Sava.

Ever since the establishment of the state, and more intensively since Saddam Hussein waged war on Iran, Iraq has been a key element in what has always been called "the eastern front." Iraqi power and Jordanian weakness were the main elements in the 36-year-old bipartisan argument that under no circumstances can Israel give up control over the Jordan Valley. That argument was used three years ago by the IDF Planning Branch when it drafted the "security zone" Israel needed to keep in any political agreement. Usually, the "fact" that Jordan prefers Israeli soldiers on its western border to Palestinian police was included in the overall argument against giving up the Jordan Valley.

Israel needed Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher to explain the ramifications of the eradication of Saddam Hussein's regime on the "eastern front." Just to make sure, so we don't hide behind Jordan, Muasher asked Yossi Beilin to state, in the name of the king, that Jordan is not afraid of a Palestinian neighbor on the western bank of the river. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has not changed his position that the Jordan Valley must not only remain under Israeli control but also under Israeli sovereignty.

That practically guarantees there is no chance of a stable peace agreement with the Palestinians. The Jordan Valley is the only land reserve they have for resettling tens of thousands of refugees who will want to fulfill the right of return to the new Palestinian state.

During a July 1967 government session debating the eastern border, Abba Eban said it would be disastrous to announce that the Jordan River is Israel's eastern border. "If we decide, even among ourselves, on principle, that the Jordan River is our border," said Eban, "there's no need for negotiations with Jordan because we will have decided on the outcome of the negotiations before they begin." (As quoted in "The Embarrassed Victory" by Reuven Pedhatzur). To adapt Eban's prescient remarks to the reality of July 2003, all that needs to be done is change the phrase "negotiations with Jordan," to "negotiations with the Palestinians."

Eban was right then, and remained in the minority. Today, while Israeli tourists travel through Jordan and American soldiers control Iraq, the government isn't bothering to take the time to deal with such marginal matters. It prefers to threaten to topple over the release of some prisoners.