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Settler leaders: Washington understands the Jordan Valley must remain in Israeli hands
By TOVAH LAZAROFF AND GIL HOFFMAN
31/12/2013
Area’s Regional Council head tells 'The Jerusalem Post' “the Americans cannot say this, because it would destroy the negotiations.”
 
The United States understands that the Jordan Valley must remain in Israeli hands, for security reasons, in any final status agreement with the Palestinians, and that includes its 22 settlements, David Lahiani, the area’s Regional Council head, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday night. “But the Americans cannot say this, because it would destroy the negotiations,” he said.

Lahiani is not just imagining the American position. Three months ago a group of American military experts visited the valley, he said.

It was his understanding that they saw how from a military perspective it is impossible to withdraw from the valley that borders with neighboring Jordan.

The settlements bolster a military presence in the valley because otherwise the soldiers are alone in a hostile territory, Lahiani said.

He is taking Sunday vote by the Ministerial Legislative Committee to annex the Jordan Valley very seriously.

The vote was only the first step of a long bureaucratic process that many politicians and pundits believe will go nowhere, because its passage would need the active support of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

But the prime minister did not stop the ministers in his party from voting on the proposal sponsored by MK Miri Regev [Likud], said Lahinai.

And among those that voted for the bill was Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar who is a senior politician, Lahiani said.

Sa’ar’s emerging role in the battle for the Jordan Valley as well as his plan to visit the region on Thursday, gives Lahiani hope that the initiative might in the end succeed, even as most politicians and pundits have dismissed it as symbolic.

“I think it is serious,” said Lahiani.

On Monday, Economic and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the Bayit Yehudi party, posted on his Facebook page a 1995 quote from former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin that said, “The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.”

Bennett also published on his page a photo of a visit he took to the valley years ago and said, “In short, the Jordan Valley is a beautiful place, and it is too important to attempt suicide by handing it over. And, most importantly, it is ours. … So forget it.”

Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On told her party’s faction in the Knesset on Monday, “we blame the prime minister for not stopping the Jordan Valley annexation bill from being raised.

Every crazy Likud MK can propose another ridiculous bill, but the prime minister is quiet.”

Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz, told Israel Radio on Monday that a vote, even one that had no teeth and was only symbolic pushed Israel into an “unnecessary diplomatic pirouette from which it will be hard to get out of.”

Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich said that Israel’s current geopolitical situation allows it to make compromises on the Jordan Valley, since there are no threats from the east.

The former Labor chair said she believes the United States will offer its own proposal for a framework agreement. “Netanyahu will say ‘yes,’ and then nothing will happen,” Yacimovich told Israel Radio.

“Netanyahu is a right-winger,” she said. “There is no difference between him and [Economy Minister] Naftali Bennett.”

The Palestinians have insisted that the Jordan Valley must be part of their future state. In response to Sunday’s ministerial vote as well as Israel’s expected announcement of more building in West Bank settlements, Palestinians have ratcheted up their rhetoric against any possible peace deal with Israel. The rising tensions come as US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to set out for Israel and the Palestinian territories on January 1.

Labor parliamentarian said that such steps destroyed any positive benefits in the negotiations and in world opinion that Israel might have derived from the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners on Monday night.

Labor faction chairman MK Eitan Cabel said, “It’s like there’s Dr. Bibi and Mr. Netanyahu.

With one hand the government releases murderers with blood on their hands, and with the other it builds over the Green Line. It’s taking a difficult step and at the same time making a decision that prevents us from getting any credit for it at all.”

Labor party leader MK Isaac Herzog, “It’s not ethical to release vile murderers who killed men, women and children without receiving anything in return. We accepted it in-order to advance a diplomatic process, but we won’t let it turn into a real-estate deal in which we build over the Green Line and end the process for which we let the murderers go.”
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