The cabinet approved on Sunday a bill that requires a public referendum on any future peace deal with the Palestinians that would have Israel give up sovereign territory.
The bill covers all of Israel, the Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem, but does not relate to the West Bank, which was never annexed by Israel.
“I believe that resuming the political process at this time is important for Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said before the vote. “Every agreement reached in negotiations will be determined in a referendum. It is important that in fateful decisions like these every citizen will vote directly in matters that determine the future of the state.”
Chairman of the coalition Yariv Levin (Likud), who sponsored the bill, expressed his satisfaction at the result of the cabinet vote.
“It is a historic decision that will help preserve unity in the people and prevent buying votes in order to squeeze through controversial decisions,” he said. “I am sure that the public will not support giving up parts of the homeland.”
“As head of the coalition I will rapidly advance the law through the Knesset and at the same time seek to expand it to include any land in Judea and Samaria,” he added.
Meretz leader Zahava Galon criticized Netanyahu for seeking cabinet approval for the bill, and scorned the prime minister as too cowardly to lead the country to a peace deal.
“Netanyahu proves again and again that he is a craven leader who gives in to pressure from Bennett and the extreme right in his party,” she said. “Netanyahu doesn’t need a referendum. He knows he will win Knesset support and the support of the wider public if he achieves a diplomatic agreement [the peace process], but he prefers to worry about the stability of his government instead of taking a fateful policy decision. The decision that was taken today pushes off the responsibility on to the people, while avoiding personal responsibility.”
If approved by the Knesset the bill will reinforce an earlier law passed in 2010 that requires the government to obtain a two-thirds Knesset majority or public approval via a referendum in order to sign away any Israeli territory. The new bill aims to make the referendum law a Basic Law that is semi-constitutional, putting it beyond the reach of the Supreme Court, which can in theory strike down any regular law. A petition against the basic referendum law has already been submitted to the Supreme Court but should the Knesset approve the new bill, the petition will become powerless.
The cabinet on Sunday was also scheduled to vote on the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gestures step towards restarting peace talks with the Palestinians. The debate on the release of the prisoners, some of whom were convicted of deadly terror attacks on IDF soldiers and Israeli civilians, continued into Sunday afternoon.