Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reacted Dec. 31 to Israel's announced initiative to formally annex the Jordan Valley. "If they do that, which we will not allow, we will see what future holds," Abbas said. "This land is ours and will remain Palestinian land, and everybody should know that this is a red line that can’t be crossed." Also that day, the Palestinian Authority cabinet convened its weekly meeting in the Jordan Valley to symbolically protest the annexation plan. From the village of Ein al-Beida, the ministers issued a statement asserting that not a "single span of the hand of this area is for rent or swap."
Israel's Ministerial Committee on Legislation voted in favor of the bill that would annex the entirety of the Jordan Valley on Dec. 29—giving it the official cabinet approval it needs to move ahead in the Knesset. The bill, sponsored by MK Miri Regev (Likud), won the support of cabinet ministers from her party as well as those from Yisrael Beytenu and Bayit Yehudi. Other cabinet members, including Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnuah), pledged to appeal the vote. Palestinian Liberation Organization chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the vote "shows the extent of Israeli disrespect for international law and the efforts of the Quartet." (Ma'an, Ma'an, Dec. 31; JP, Dec. 29)
It recently provoked an outcry from the Israeli right when it was revealed that proposed Palestinian bargaining points in the peace talks included a complete withdrawal of Israeli military forces from the Jordan Valley.
The annexation bill comes just as the release of Palestinian prisoners as part of the renewed peace process is getting underway. Some 25 of a total of 104 slated for release were placed on buses from Israeli prisons Dec. 30, receiving a hero's welcome upon arrival in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This, of course, provoked another outcry from the Israeli right. However, under the formula drawn up by US Secretary of State John Kerry, the Palestinian negotiating team dropped its longstanding demand for Israel to halt settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. According to the Associated Press, "[t]he Palestinians say they have received vague assurances that Israel would show restraint while the talks continue until an April target date for an agreement." (AP, Dec. 30)
A bill to annex a large part of the West Bank seems designed to demonstrate that such "vague assurances" are worthless.