Isolated settlements won’t remain part of Israel in any final-status agreement with the Palestinians, said Justice Minister Tzipi Livni on Tuesday as she described her priority list for a peace deal.
Livni, who is Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, spoke at the Seventh Galilee Conference in Tiberias about areas outside of the settlement blocs, such as the Jordan Valley.
In this context of priorities, she prefers the Galilee, Kiryat Shemona, Tiberias and the Negev to “isolated settlements outside of the blocs that won’t be part of any future diplomatic agreement,” she said. “Instead of annexing settlements outside the blocs to Israel and becoming an isolated and ostracized country, I prefer, socially, culturally and economically, to annex the Galilee and the Negev to Israel.”
It was a Zionist imperative to maintain Israel as a democratic and Jewish state, something that could only happen through a two-state solution, she said.
“I believe that most of Israel wants an agreement,” Livni said. “This time we won’t let the opportunity elude us.”
As she spoke, Deputy Minister for Liaison with the Knesset MK Ofir Akunis toured the Jordan Valley, calling the area “Israel’s iron wall.”
The Jordan Valley has been one of the points of contention in the peace talks.
“To withdraw from the Jordan Valley is to abandon Israel’s security,” said Akunis (Likud), who met with the Jordan Valley Regional Council head David Lahiani during his tour. “Leaving the valley by uprooting settlements and withdrawing the IDF would be a strategic error that would cost everyone dearly.”
On Thursday, a delegation of parliamentarians headed by Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar will visit the Jordan Valley and hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a neighborhood that is under construction in the settlement of Gitit, located 37 kilometers beyond the pre-1967 lines.
The Jordan Valley has become a particularly sensitive part of the debate on the future of Jewish communities in the West Bank, because Israel has argued it must maintain a military presence there to preserve its security. The Palestinians have publicly stated that they would not accept any security arrangement for the valley that includes IDF soldiers remaining there.
On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislative symbolically voted to annex the Jordan Valley. Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid immediately stymied the process of turning that vote into law. But the vote opened a flood gate for political comments from politicians who believe Israel should retain the valley in any final-status agreement with the Palestinians.
“The Jordan Valley is our eastern border and will remain ours,” Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) said at the Tiberias conference on Tuesday.
President Shimon Peres said, “Everyone knows that to achieve peace we will have to give up territory. There is no argument about that.”
He spoke at the Galilee Conference in favor of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to bring peace to the region, which he said were vital to Israel’s security and economic interests.
“Israel’s greatest strategic strength is peace,” Peres said. “If there will be peace, we will find budgets we didn’t think we had. Israel is facing a new reality that includes within it new opportunities.
Both the European Union and the Arab League are putting forward proposals to us which only a few years we couldn’t have even dreamed of. They used to say that peace with Egypt and Jordan was impossible, and today we understand how important those peace deals are. I believe that Israel is facing new opportunities and I hope that some of us can throw out our preconceptions,” the president said.
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