The centrist Yesh Atid party on Monday came out against the idea of legislating a national referendum on any future peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority, effectively stymieing the initiative, which was being championed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The party, headed by Finance Minister Yair Lapid, reached the decision after a lengthy discussion at a faction meeting, Yesh Atid said in a statement. The decision established a majority against the initiative in the Cabinet, and pits Lapid against Netanyahu and his close coalition partner Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, aligning him with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party.
Livni praised Yesh Atid on the decision.
“I believe that anyone who wants to promote a political settlement [with the Palestinians] and recognizes the importance of doing so can’t support a referendum, so I congratulate members of Yesh Atid on their decision to oppose the Jewish Home proposal and to put the good of the people before politics,” she said Monday.
Livni has stated that the initiative to hold a referendum was aimed at “forestalling Knesset and Cabinet decisions,” and that general elections are the “true referendum.”
Last week, Netanyahu defended the idea of a national referendum on any peace agreement with the PA, fending off challenges from Yisrael Beytenu.
“I support the referendum for the simple reason that it’s a very important issue,” Netanyahu told members of Likud-Beytenu at the faction’s weekly meeting. ”I don’t think a diplomatic agreement can be decided by an arbitrary majority.”
However, Liberman, the Yisrael Beytenu chief, registered his disagreement.
“There’s a government that must rule; not everything can be passed by a referendum,” said Liberman, who is slated to become foreign minister if he manages to beat the corruption charges standing against him.
He said that Israel couldn’t pass some laws by referendum, “like Switzerland,” while others were decided in parliament.
Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) also expressed her objection to a referendum.
Israel is a representative democracy, in which “we go to vote once in four years, so that our leader can make difficult decisions regarding our future,” she said at a Labor faction meeting.
“The selectiveness of choosing [peace] negotiations as the only subject for a referendum drives a wedge and damages the chance of [such negotiations] to succeed,” Yachimovich said.
Aaron Kalman and Asher Zeiger contributed to this report.