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In a Jordan Valley Village, Palestinians Are Left in the Dark




FASAYIL, West Bank — More than three hours had passed since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had dropped his campaign bombshell: If re-elected, he would annex the Jordan Valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

But the news had barely begun to reach the people in Fasayil, a sleepy Palestinian hamlet in the Jordan Valley about 10 miles north of Jericho. The surprise announcement left many in the village seemingly unsure how to respond, as if they hadn’t yet received direction from the Palestinian Authority, the self-governing body with limited powers that provides some services here.

“Let them annex it,” Muhammad Musa, 22, said of the Israelis. “It would be much better for our work.” Like three of his brothers and most of the other men in this village of about 2,000 people, Mr. Musa labors by day as an agricultural worker in Tomer, an adjacent Jewish settlement.

Mr. Netanyahu did not specify whether the residents of annexed Palestinian villages would be granted Israeli citizenship, though prior annexation proposals have raised the possibility for a limited number of West Bank residents.

Mr. Musa said he would have “no problem” taking Israeli citizenship if it were offered, but added with a shrug that it would also be “no problem” if not.

Such equanimity was in contrast to the condemnations of Mr. Netanyahu’s announcement by Palestinian officials.

The veteran negotiator Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a native of Jericho, warned Tuesday that if Mr. Netanyahu manages to push through his plan, he will have “succeeded in burying even any chance of peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”

The village council head, Ibrahim Obayat, 60, hewed to the party line.

“We are against everything that Netanyahu said,” said Mr. Obayat, who was out of town but spoke by telephone. “We will never support that. But nobody can prevent Netanyahu from talking.”

“First, let Netanyahu win, then we’ll see,” added Mr. Obayat, who said he had not yet spoken with Palestinian Authority officials about the annexation plan. “It’s an election campaign.”

The map Mr. Netanyahu presented at his news conference denoted future Israeli sovereignty in a long stretch of the Jordan Valley, from Beit Shean in northern Israel to the shores of the Dead Sea. A small enclave would remain under Palestinian self-rule, including the oasis city of Jericho and the village of Ouja to its north.

The Palestinians have long viewed the fertile Jordan Valley, which makes up some 30 percent of the West Bank, as the breadbasket of a future state.


The valley has been a sticking point in past Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. During 2014 peace talks orchestrated by Secretary of State John Kerry, Mr. Netanyahu insisted on maintaining a long-term Israeli military presence along the Jordanian border to prevent infiltrations and weapons smuggling from the east.

But some in his Likud party said there could be no security without Jewish settlements there, and argued that Israel should annex the area permanently.

As it is, life in the scattered villages has long been suspended between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

Fasayil sits in Area C, the large part of the West Bank technically under full Israeli control. The Palestinian Authority has paved the roads, run the school and clinic, and granted building permits for houses within village limits set by Israel. Anything constructed beyond the limits, residents said, is demolished by the Israelis.

“This is a peaceful town,” said Khalil Nawawra, 35, who also works in Tomer, tending to the crops of eggplants, peppers, grapes and date palms. “We have no tension with the Israelis,” he said. “I don’t think annexation will affect us in any way. It won’t make any difference.”

The main complaint in the village: electricity. More than 50 years after Israel captured the area from Jordan in the 1967 war — and more than 25 years after Israel signed the first peace accords with the Palestinians — Fasayil still does not receive enough power.

Men, women and children had come out of their houses and crowded around Tuesday night, drawn by the unexpected visit from news reporters. The residents said that temperatures could soar to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but the electricity supply was too weak to run fans or air-conditioners.

“Netanyahu wants to annex us?” said Khalil Obayat, 50, a brother of the council head. “He doesn’t even provide us with enough electricity.” He added that he thought annexation would be bad for the village but said it was up to the Palestinian Authority to decide what should be done.

As if on cue, the power went out. For few minutes, the village went pitch dark.

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