Israeli ministers committee votes to annex Jordan Valley
Eight ministers on the Committee for Legislation voted in favor of the bill, while three – including the finance and justice ministers – opposed it.
JERUSALEM — Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation passed Sunday a bill to annex Jewish settlements in the Palestinian Jordan Valley to be an official part of the Jewish state.
The bill, which still needs to be approved by the Knesset ( parliament), counters the U.S. proposal for security arrangement in the Jordan Valley and threatens to thwart the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, only a week before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will arrive at Israel in a fresh bid to push forward the peace talks.
Chairwoman of the Committee, Tzipi Livni, who is also Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, defined the bill as ” irresponsible”. She said “this bill would harm the State of Israel and isolate it,” and she will appeal the decision.
Promoted by a Hawkish Knesset member of the ruling coalition, Miri Regev, the bill calls for applying Israeli sovereignty over Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley as well as Jewish lands and the roads that lead to them.
If the bill becomes a law, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be unable to accept the U.S. proposal to recognize the Jordan Valley as part of the future Palestinian state and maintain only Israel’s military presence in the area.
“Its purpose is to ensure that the current government of Israel continues to maintain the country’s eastern line of defense, as every previous government has done,” Regev, member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, lauded the decision. “The approval is an absolute statement by the government saying the Jordan Valley is a strategic asset for Israel’s security and will remain forever in Israeli hands.”
Israel occupied the Jordan Valley, around one third of the West Bank, in the 1967 Six-Day War. Palestinians accuse Israel of intensive exploitation of the land and water resources of the Jordan Valley, to a greater extent than elsewhere in the West Bank, making it annexed de facto to the State of Israel. They have reportedly rejected the U.S. proposal to allow a continued Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley under a peace deal.
Video: Israeli cabinet ministers endorse new bill to annex Jordan Valley
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Jordan Valley annexation bill panned by Palestinians, Israelis
Erekat, EU and dovish ministers castigate proposal from Likud’s Miri Regev, which has little chance of becoming law
BY Lazar Berman and Haviv Rettig Gur
Times of Israel
Political leaders in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Brussels found rare agreement Sunday, condemning a proposal for Israel to effectively annex the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, a move that gained ground in the Knesset but is expected to be quashed by the prime minister.
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday approved the proposal, which had been introduced Thursday by Likud MK Miri Regev. Clearing this hurdle would ordinarily open the way for the bill to move to the Knesset for a full vote, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister and chief negotiator Tzipi Livni said they would appeal the vote.
While it is a largely symbolic bid to prevent a full Israeli withdrawal from the Jordan Valley under a future peace agreement with the Palestinians, the bill still managed to draw harsh condemnations from Palestinians and dovish ministers in the Israeli government, as well as international actors.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called on the international community to prosecute the Jewish state for moving ahead with the bill. Speaking to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency, he said the proposal highlighted Israeli “indifference” to peace efforts.
The European Union is expected to respond forcefully should Israel go ahead with the plan, according to Channel 10, quoting a senior EU diplomat. “There will be little understanding from Europe’s governments,” the diplomat was quoted as saying.
Livni (Hatnua) called the bill irresponsible, and said it was designed to harm the government while currying favor with the political right. ”If the bill’s supporters had known it would pass,” she said, according to Israel Radio, “they would have opposed it.”
Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid) called the bill a “manipulation” and “provocation,” designed to garner political gain days before US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives, and his party chief, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, said Israel’s negotiating team should not have its hands tied by legislative moves.
However the bill, which would limit the maneuvering room of Israeli negotiators, is considered highly unlikely to be passed into law. The appeal by Netanyahu means that the entire government will vote again on the legislation, and will in all likelihood defeat the measure.
In Sunday’s vote, eight ministers supported the bill, with only three opposing.
“There is no distinction between settlement and security, and the Jordan Valley is a consensus among Israeli civilians,” said Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud).
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud) called the border region a strategic part of Israel. “We will not give up the Jordan Valley in any arrangement,” he promised, “and it would be good for the world to know this and for the Palestinians to internalize this.”
The measure would place the region under Israeli law, whereas the area currently has the legal status of a captured territory administered by the IDF. The bill is similar to the 1981 Golan Heights Bill, which applied Israeli civil law and effectively annexed the Syrian border region to Israel.
While the international community refused to recognize Israel’s unilateral annexation of the Golan, under Israeli law it is treated as sovereign Israeli territory.
“It is no secret that the settlements in the valley have a strategic, security, and political importance of the first order,” Regev wrote on her Facebook page.
The Jordan Valley has become a key sticking point in peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Jerusalem insists on maintaining a militarized buffer in the region, while Ramallah is staunchly opposed to any Israeli troops on its land.
Regev’s bill reportedly runs counter to the US-drafted security proposals for a peace accord, which would allow for an Israeli military presence in the border area between Jordan and the West Bank, but would require that all of Israel’s settlements in the Jordan Valley be dismantled.
Netanyahu has insisted on maintaining Israeli security control of the border, but has been less definitive as regards the future of the Jordan Valley settlements. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, by contrast, said earlier this month that the settlements there were critical to the viability of maintaining a military presence.