In rebuff to annexation bill, PM says no to unilateral moves

Day after Jordan Valley plan wins condemnation, Netanyahu says continuation of talks in Israel’s interest

Yifa Yaakov is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks out at the Allenby Border Terminal with Jordan in the Jordan Valley in 2009 (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks out at the Allenby Border Terminal with Jordan in the Jordan Valley in 2009 (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

A day after a parliamentary proposal for Israel to annex the Jordan Valley drew wide opposition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a cautious stand against the move, saying Israel would avoid making unilateral moves in the interest of continuing negotiations with the Palestinians.

“Israel has a vested strategic interest in the continuation of peace talks,” Netanyhau said in a Likud-Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting Monday afternoon.

“Both sides have made commitments such as avoiding making unilateral moves,” he said, noting that the agreements between the two sides had been reached in international forums.

On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the bill, introduced by MK Miri Regev (Likud), which would effectively annex the region of the West Bank bordering Jordan.

However, the bill, which could limit the maneuvering room of Israeli negotiators, is considered unlikely to be passed into law.

Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is managing peace talks, 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.

Netanyahu said Monday that a peace deal would be signed only if Israel’s “vital interests,” among them the right to expand the Israeli presence in Israel, were “guaranteed.”

On Sunday, political leaders in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Brussels found rare agreement in condemning the Jordan Valley proposal.

Palestinian negotiator said the plan destroyed all efforts toward peace.

On Monday, Meretz party chair Zahava Gal-on said that if the Knesset were to vote on the proposal, her faction would not vote against it — thereby obligating Netanyahu to take a stand against what she described as “a pointless provocation” undermining US efforts to facilitate a peace agreement.

Likening Netanyahu’s behavior to “showing the Americans the middle finger,” Gal-on said the fact that the “illegal” proposal had not been shot down so far showed the world Israel wasn’t a partner for peace.

“The prime minister cannot continue to stay silent and use the opposition as a lifesaver,” Gal-on said. “We won’t be the ones who help the strange two-headed body that is the Netanyahu government stay afloat.”

Calling on the prime minister to “stop hiding” and speak out, Gal-on accused Netanyahu of “going to Washington and talking about a peace agreement” while at the same time “building in settlements as if possessed, drafting anti-democratic laws and asking to annex territories.”

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.

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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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