Sunday’s cabinet committee vote to grant government support to a bill that would annex the Jordan Valley has set back Israel’s achievements in the peace talks, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnua) charged on Monday morning.
“Israel has a huge amount to gain from the diplomatic process,” he told Army Radio, citing specifically Israel’s successful negotiation of its participation in the EU’s massive scientific research investment fund Horizon 2020. “Is it going to lose all that because of vacuous political gimmicks?” he asked.
Peretz, a former defense minister and leader of the Labor Party, said the spate of annexationist rhetoric and legislation in recent weeks was an “unnecessary commotion” that was doing damage to the country.
“The coalition is behaving like an opposition,” said MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor), herself a former Labor Party leader and opposition head, with ministers and MKs from parties in the ruling coalition repeatedly proposing measures that constitute obstacles to the government’s own stated policies.
The proposals are “political declarations” whose only purpose is to provide “rhetorical trophies for the far right,” charged Yachimovich.
The Jordan Valley did not constitute a security threat, she continued. “We live in an environment undergoing strategic changes. There is no threat to the Jordan Valley from the eastern frontier,” she said.
While noting that the far-right initiatives contradicted the Netanyahu government’s policies, Yachimovich also accused the prime minister of being unwilling to see the peace talks through to a positive conclusion.
“The Americans will present a framework agreement, Netanyahu will say ‘yes,’ and then nothing will happen,” she predicted. “Netanyahu is a right-winger, and there is no difference between him and [Economy and Trade Minister] Naftali Bennett,” the leader of the Jewish Home party.
The cabinet vote on Sunday afternoon has garnered harsh denunciation, including from within the government itself.
The bill in question, proposed by MK Miri Regev (Likud), would apply Israeli civil law to — and, in effect, annex — the strategically significant Jordan Valley region of the West Bank. Despite passing the cabinet’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation, the bill stands little chance of becoming law as it faces resistance from senior cabinet members, including the ministerial committee’s chair Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu, Livni and Science Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid) have already vowed to appeal the vote.
Yet, while 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, it drew harsh condemnations from Palestinians, Israeli ministers and 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 independent Palestinian news agency Ma’an, 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 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.”
Peri called the bill a “manipulation” and “provocation,” designed to garner political points days before US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives.
Peri’s party chief, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, said Israel’s negotiating team should not have its hands tied by legislative moves.
In Sunday’s vote, eight ministers supported the bill, including the Likud’s representatives on the committee, while three opposed.
“There is no distinction between settlement and security, and the Jordan Valley is a consensus among Israeli civilians,” Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud) said after voting in favor.
The measure would place the region under Israeli civil law, rather than its current status under Israeli law 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.