Analysis from Israel

In the run-up to John Kerry’s arrival in Jerusalem today for yet another round of Israeli-Palestinian talks, media attention naturally focused less on real obstacles to peace than on an Israeli bill to annex the Jordan Valley that supporters and opponents agree hasn’t a prayer of becoming law. Yet despite this coverage, the most interesting fact about the bill has been largely overlooked: One of the biggest behind-the-scenes fans of Israel retaining control of this strategic location is none other than the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Last month, the Israeli daily Maariv reported that Jordan has been urging Kerry to support Israel’s demand for a permanent IDF presence in the valley under any deal with the Palestinians. Three months earlier, the Jerusalem Post‘s Khaled Abu Toameh quoted a senior Jordanian official’s response when asked in a closed briefing how Amman viewed the possibility of Palestinians replacing Israel along the Jordan border:

“May God forbid!” the official retorted. “We have repeatedly made it clear to the Israeli side that we will not agree to the presence of a third party at our border.”

The Jordanian official claimed this has been Jordan’s position ever since 1967. But it was undoubtedly reinforced by watching the deleterious effects on Egypt’s security of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.

With the IDF no longer there to impede the flow, radical ideology, terrorists, and weaponry began pouring from into Sinai, providing local terrorists not only with enhanced resources (as I explain in more detail here and here), but also with valuable training. As a result, Sinai quickly became a terrorist hotbed that poses a major threat not only to Israel–whose Shin Bet security service now devotes the same resources to monitoring Sinai that it does to the northern West Bank–but also to Egypt itself. A Sinai terrorist group, for instance, claimed responsibility for last week’s deadly bombing in Mansoura.

The last thing Jordan needs is a similar influx of arms, radicalism, and veteran Palestinian terrorists pouring over its border, especially given its large Palestinian population. Already destabilized by a massive influx of Syrian refugees and rumblings of homegrown discontent, such an influx would surely send it over the edge. And unless Israel remains in the Jordan Valley permanently (or at least for many decades to come), that’s exactly what will happen. Allowing the IDF to stay there merely for another few years, as Kerry is reportedly proposing, does nothing but temporarily postpone the inevitable.

Western leaders repeatedly say they want Israel out of the territories because its presence there is “a major source of instability” in the region, as President Obama put it his UN address in September. Yet experience shows that Israeli withdrawals may well be a far greater source of instability. The Gaza pullout certainly turned out that way for Egypt (as well as for Israel), and Amman clearly fears a Jordan Valley pullout would have a similarly negative impact on Jordan.

If the West truly cares about stability, pushing for an Israeli withdrawal that would destabilize Jordan, one of the region’s last remaining islands of stability, seems highly counterproductive. Indeed, given how often Israeli pullouts have had negative results, the West might do better to abandon this paradigm altogether and start searching for a new one. Supporting a permanent Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley would be a good place to start.

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In today’s world, Orthodox and Conservative Jews should be natural allies

Jewish tradition holds that the Second Temple was destroyed by baseless hatred. Since we’re currently in the annual three-week mourning period for the destruction of both Temples, which culminates in the holiday of Tisha B’Av, it’s a good time to consider a particularly counterproductive bit of baseless hatred: that between the Orthodox and Conservative movements.

Orthodox Jews tend to view Conservative and Reform Jewry as indistinguishable, lumping them both together as “non-Orthodox.” But in reality, there’s a yawning gap between them. The Conservative movement officially maintains that Jews must follow halachah (traditional Jewish law), including by observing Shabbat, kashrut, the Jewish holidays and so forth. The Reform movement rejects the very idea of binding halachah. Thus on the fundamental issue that has preserved the Jewish people for millennia—the binding nature of halachah—the Conservatives are formally on the Orthodox side of the divide.

Admittedly, most Conservative Jews don’t practice what their movement preaches, so one could legitimately ask what value this formal commitment to halachah has if most of its members ignore it. Moreover, this failure to produce and sustain observant communities has led many Jews raised in committed Conservative homes to switch to Orthodoxy (I’m one of them), and if the most observant continue leaving, I wonder how long even a formal commitment to halachah will survive.

But right now, the Conservative movement still contains a traditionalist faction that’s committed to observing halachah as the movement defines it. And because of this commitment, traditionalist Conservatives have far more in common with Orthodoxy than Reform.

Granted, Conservative interpretations of halachah diverge from Orthodox ones in nontrivial ways. But that strikes me as a less serious problem, because radically divergent interpretations of halachah have been common throughout Jewish history.

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