Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday stood firm by the cabinet’s symbolic vote to annex the Jordan River Valley.
In a Facebook entry entitled “My Jordan Valley,” Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, showed an old photo (from his “hair days”) hiking with his wife through Sartaba, while listing the names of the 27 communal farms and other ventures created by Jews living in the region west of the Jordan river.
He described them as “the defensive line that protects those of us in the center of the country.”
“Even the argument of ‘ruling over another nation’ is not valid there,” Bennett said, as their actual population is almost exclusively Jewish.
He quoted fallen Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, from his last political speech in the Knesset, on October 5th, 1995, a month before his assassination: “The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.”
Bennett 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.”
The defiant tone came after political opposition and voices from within the government’s coalition, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, objected to or distanced themselves from Sunday’s vote by the cabinet because of their uncertainty as to how it might impact ongoing negotiations with the Palestinian Authority led by the U.S. which is eager to reach a land-for-peace deal in the coming months.
The bill was proposed by MK Miri Regev, of Netanyahu’s Likud Party. In Sunday’s vote, eight ministers supported the bill, while three opposed, including Netanyahu, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, of Hatnua and Israeli’s negotiator with the PA, and Science Minister Yaakov Peri of Yesh Atid.
After the vote, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, of Likud, said, “There is no distinction between settlement and security, and the Jordan Valley is a consensus among Israeli civilians,” according to The Times of Israel.
The measure would place the region under Israeli civil law, similar to the 1981 Golan Heights Bill that applied Israeli civil law to annex the Syrian border region to Israel. While the international community refused to recognize the move, under Israeli law, the Golan is treated as sovereign Israeli territory.
The current status of the Jordan River Valley under Israeli law is of a captured territory administered by the IDF, according to The Times of Israel.
Regev also supported the bill on her Facebook page: “It is no secret that the settlements in the valley have a strategic, security, and political importance of the first order.”
Recent reports suggest that the U.S.-drafted security proposals for a peace agreement with the PA would allow for an Israeli military presence in the area, but require the removal of all Jewish residents there. According to leaks from the negotiations that have been reported by Israeli media, Jerusalem insists on maintaining the area as a militarized buffer, while Ramallah would oppose any Israeli troops on land that would be under PA control.