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Palestinians attack symbolic ministerial vote to annex Jordan Valley
By LAHAV HARKOV, KHALED ABU TOAMEH AND TOVAH LAZAR
29/12/2013
Erekat: Bill shows Israel's "indifference" to international law; Yesh Atid, Hatnua are likely to appeal vote on bill that would apply Israeli law to the area.
 
Palestinians warned Sunday that a symbolic Israeli ministerial vote to annex the Jordan Valley could destroy the peace process that US Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing to advance by heading to Jerusalem and Ramallah later this week.

The vote “shows the extent of Israeli disrespect for international law and the efforts of the [Middle East] Quartet,” Palestinian Liberation Organization chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

In a show of support for the valley that the Palestinians claim should be an essential part of their state, the Ministerial Legislative Committee voted eight to three to annex it to Israel.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Health Minister Yael German and Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri, have all said they will appeal the vote.

Such an appeal places the matter directly in the hands of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a move that many believe effectively kills the legislation.

The Ministerial Legislative Committee must now revote the issue and that vote can only be held with Netanyahu’s approval. The legislation would also have to pass the Knesset before it becomes law.

The bill, which was sponsored by MK Miri Regev (Likud) had the support of ministers from her party as well as those from Yisrael Beytenu and Bayit Yehudi on the legislative committee.

Livni and Lapid accused the ministers of attempting to foil the peace talks with the Palestinians by supporting a bill that had no chance of passing.

“This is an irresponsible bill and those who support it are irresponsible,” said Livni.

“It is a proposal that harms the State of Israel and isolates it,” she said. “It is also designed to harm the government, because this is a matter of government policy and not [the subject] for a private bill.”

But Regev said: “The ministerial committee’s approval of this bill now, when there are talks with the Palestinians, is a clear statement by the government that the towns in the Jordan Valley are a strategic and security asset of the State of Israel that must stay in our hands.”

According to Regev, the region is the “safety belt” on the eastern border.

Control of the valley has been a sticking point in the negotiations. Netanyahu has insisted that for security reasons Israel must maintain a military presence there.

Many Likud, Yisrael Beytenu and Bayit Yehudi politicians want the settlements to remain as well, and for the area to become a permanent part of the State of Israel.

Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar worked to convince the committee to approve the bill, saying “there is no separation between settlement and security, and the Jordan Valley is a consensus among Israeli citizens.

There’s nothing wrong with everyone knowing that the Jordan Valley will remain Israeli in any final status agreement.”

Regev thanked Sa’ar (Likud) and Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel for pushing the bill through the committee.

She and Sa’ar plan to visit there later this week.

Lapid, however, said he vehemently opposed it, both because he supports a two state solution and because laws such as these are designed to cripple the ability of the negotiators to arrive at a final status solution.

Erekat told the Bethlehem- based Ma’an news agency that the annexation of the Jordan Valley to Israel in this way is proof that Netanyahu’s government is disregarding international law.

Erekat urged the international community to hold Israel accountable for this decision.

He said that the Palestinian response to the decision should come by joining UN agencies and organizations.

MK Nachman Shai (Labor) attacked the decision saying that “this government is being outrageously irresponsible.”

“Instead of promoting the only way to save the State of Israel from becoming a binational state, it is ruining any chance of a treaty and deteriorating us to international isolation,” he said.

According to Shai the vote reveals the government’s real face, even though it is negotiating with the Palestinians.

In the coalition, Ofer Shelah, the Yesh Atid faction chairman, called the bill “irresponsible and dangerous, which causes harm even if it does not become law in the end.”

“The fact that all Likud ministers voted for this bill raises questions about the prime minister’s party’s seriousness, since he decided to enter negotiations with the Palestinians while his ministers support a bill that will tie Israel’s hands in those talks, and makes us look like we’re doing everything to sabotage them,” Shelah said.

MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) said the committee’s approval of the bill indicates that “Netanyahu suffers from a split personality, or he’s a serial cheat.”

“On the one hand, he frees murdering terrorists and with the other he allows the extremists in his party to pass laws that stop negotiations. On the one hand he sends Tzipi Livni to talk to the Palestinians and on the other he builds settlements. Either way, he is hurting the citizens of Israel,” Horowitz said.

The Ministerial Legislative Committee vote comes in the midst of a nine month negotiating period that ends in April. As part of that process Kerry plans to meet later this week with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister President Mahmoud Abbas.
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