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29 Dec, 2013 20:20

Israeli ministers approve bill to annex Jordan Valley, peace talks under threat

Israeli ministers approve bill to annex Jordan Valley, peace talks under threat

Israeli ministers have approved a bill to annex Jordan Valley settlements to the Jewish state, threatening US-brokered peace talks with Palestine. Ministers opposing the proposed legislation plan to appeal the decision and demand a revote.

Eight ministers on the Committee for Legislation voted in favor of the bill, while three - including the finance and justice ministers – opposed it.

The proposed legislation would apply Israeli law to settlements in the Jordan Valley and the roads leading to them. No restrictions will apply to construction in the area, unless officially approved by the Knesset – Israel’s parliament.

The author of the bill, Knesset member Miri Regev, said she submitted it “solely for diplomatic and security reasons.”

Regev reiterated her position on Sunday, stressing that the Jordan Valley is the “safety belt” on the eastern border.

"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," she said.

However, critics of Regev’s bill called the proposal “irresponsible” and “populist,” alleging that it will be harmful to Israel.

“This is an irresponsible and populist bill that seeks to tie the hands of the government and the prime minister” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said, adding that the vote has been taken “in haste.”

Its price will be harm to the State of Israel and isolation in the world,” she said.

Israel's Science, Technology and Space Minister Jacob Perry accused the bill of being both a provocation and a publicity stunt amid sensitive negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. He vowed to file an appeal with the Supreme Court.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat also condemned the bill, telling Ma’an news agency that it shows Israel’s "indifference" to international law and undermines US efforts for peace.

Resolving the dispute over the Jordan Valley - a territory which Israel captured in the 1967 war and Palestinians seek as part of their future state - is "a critical threading of a needle that has to happen in order to achieve an agreement,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said.

The move, which comes days before Kerry’s visit to the region, is now threatening to thwart US-brokered peace negotiations. After a three-year deadlock, the talks have so far shown a few signs of progress.

The Sunday vote of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation comes two days after Israel announced it would soon free 26 Palestinian prisoners. The release – the third to take place this year – is part of Kerry’s roadmap for peace between the two sides. A fourth and final release is set to occur at a later date.

The US has set a deadline for Israel and a new Palestinian state to achieve a "two-state solution" by April.

Kerry plans to travel to Jerusalem and Ramallah to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on January 1.