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.