"Either you give us the Jordan Valley, or we'll take it!"

Muhammad Shtayyah, member of the Palestinian Negotiations team, told journalists in the West Bank village of Dura al-Qarya’ today that in direct Israeli-Palestinian talks sponsored by Jordan in Amman earlier this year, the Israeli delegation told the Palestinians straight-out: “Either you give us the Jordan Valley, or we’ll take it”.

He scoffed, with a laugh, when asked if the Israeli position wasn’t more nuanced. “It was exactly like that” — and in those words, he said.

According to reports in the Israeli media, Israeli envoys expressed some perhaps-ironic regret for the usual Palestinian negotiator, Dr. Saeb Erekat, saying they missed him.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said last August that Israeli demands for the Jordan Valley were a main stumbling block in the negotiations, as we reported here.

Negotiations have restarted fitfully, and without any progress, two or three times after the point where some new proposals were made by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in September 2008 [who soon resigned when under investigation for corruption charges]. The Palestinian leadership then broke off negotiations at the end of December 2008, when Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, a massive three-week military operation in Gaza that was purportedly aimed at Hamas targets [which were seen everywhere]… Under the Obama Administration, two attempts to restart direct talks were grudgingly attended by an unsatisfied Palestinian delegation. Both attempts ended abruptly when new Israeli settlement building was announced — though the U.S. continues to say that it’s aim is to get the two sides to reengage.
A third set of meetings, which the Palestinians did not want to acknowledge as negotiations and which they said they attended only out of courtesy, was held in Amman earlier this year, and led to a formal exchange of letters between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

Dr. Shtayyah [his name can be spelled a number of different ways in English, including Ishtayya] was elected to the Fatah Central Committee in its last General Conference in Bethlehem in August 2009, after which he was obliged to relinquish his post of Minister of Planning. He is still the head [apparently at ministerial-level] of the Palestinian Economic Commission for Reconstruction and Development, PECDAR, set up at the start of the Oslo process in 1993, and is also an advisor to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

He was the Palestinian negotiator in direct contacts with Israeli envoys in Amman over a period of weeks, earlier this year. These talks were held at the invitation of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, with active American encouragement. Jordanian officials acted as facilitators, and American and Quartet envoys were also present.

In 2003-4, the U.S. reportedly objected strongly, in private meetings, to Israel’s plans to extend The Wall down the length of the Jordan Valley.

But, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has recently openly stated Israel’s position that it would be necessary, for Israel’s security, to maintain a security presence along the Jordan River which is the boundary between the West Bank and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has publicly complained about the Netanyahu position on the need for Israel to maintain a long-term security presence in the Jordan Valley.

Shtayyah said, “We asked the Israelis, ‘What are you afraid of?'” And, he said, “Israel told us they don’t trust Jordan”.
[note: ironic joke…]

Israel has consistently expressed — in public at least — great confidence in the peace treaties it has concluded with Jordan [in 1994] as well as earlier with Egypt [in 1979].

Shtayyah told this reporter that the Palestinian leadership believes there should only be Palestinian and Jordanian forces on the border between the West Bank and Jordan. He also said that Jordanian officials told Palestinian negotiators that they fully agree with this position.

“But”, he added, “we don’t know exactly what the Jordanians say [in phrivate] to others”.