A proposal for Israel to effectively annex the Jordan Valley region of the West Bank passed a key hurdle Sunday, but is expected to to be quashed by strong opposition from the prime minister.
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the proposal, introduced Thursday by Likud MK Miri Regev.
The bill is a largely symbolic bid to prevent a full Israeli withdrawal from the Jordan Valley under a future peace agreement with the Palestinians, and underlines opposition to concessions as part of a peace deal even within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party.
MK Moti Yogev (Jewish Home) previously submitted a bill nearly identical to Regev’s.
The measure would place the region under Israeli law. 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.
The bill, which could limit the maneuvering room of Israeli negotiators, is considered unlikely to be passed into law.
Netanyahu and his pointwoman for the talks, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, announced they would appeal the passage of the bill.
The appeal by Netanyahu means that the entire government will vote again on the bill, and will in all likelihood defeat the measure.
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 been circumspect over whether he would insist on retaining the settlements along the Jordan Valley.
The proposals, discussed by US Secretary of State John Kerry with Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas on his recent visits here, infuriated Abbas, who earlier this month went over Kerry’s head and wrote a letter of protest to US President Barack Obama about his concerns.
According to Army Radio, the Kerry plan provides for a massively upgraded border fence along the border between the West Bank and Jordan, with the IDF maintaining sole responsibility for the border for the first 10 years of a peace agreement. After that, border authority would be shared, in some yet-to-be-finalized agreement, between Israel and the PA.
The US, under the proposal, would provide an additional West Bank security “envelope,” which would utilize drones and other high-tech equipment to provide real-time intelligence on any terrorist threats and other unlawful border activity. Amos Gilad, a senior Defense Ministry official, has stressed that such intelligence would have “no value” whatsoever if Israeli soldiers were not deployed in the area to act upon it.
But the bill is only the latest in a series of proposals that seek to extend Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank. The bills are all piecemeal measures, either extending all Israeli civil law over a small part of the West Bank, or a small measure of Israeli law over the entire territory.