Justice Minister Tzipi Livni on Sunday came out against Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett following reports that the two were weighing the possibility of legislating a national referendum on any peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority.
Bennett insisted on a referendum as a condition for his Jewish Home party’s joining a coalition with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party in the weeks following the January 22 elections. However, it appears that without the support of Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, Bennett’s proposal has no chance to pass a Knesset vote.
Lapid, for his part, has not ruled out such a proposal, but has also yet to come out in favor. Yedioth Ahronoth reported Sunday that Lapid would consult his fellow party members regarding the initiative. Whether or not Lapid ultimately joins Bennett in proposing a national referendum on a final-status deal with the PA, the two do hold seemingly incompatible views regarding a two-state solution, which Lapid supports and Bennett does not.
On Sunday afternoon, Livni blasted the pending proposal, saying that “a referendum is a way to forestall Knesset and cabinet decisions.”
“The general elections are the true referendum,” asserted Livni in an interview with Army Radio. “The Knesset is meant to accept or reject proposals… this is its authority, the mandate we received from the public.”
Bennett was cited in Yedioth as saying that a referendum would prevent a rift within the country.
But Livni said a referendum would achieve the exact opposite, claiming that it “would bring the opponents of a settlement [with the Palestinians] out into street.”
Under the coalition agreement with Livni’s Hatnua party, Netanyahu tasked the veteran stateswoman with heading Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians, assuming that the talks can be restarted under the current government. The two sides have not spoken since 2010.
Commentators pointed out that in 2000, when she was a minister representing Likud, Livni and fellow party member Silvan Shalom proposed a similar referendum. According to their proposal, in the event that the Knesset passed a framework for a final settlement with the Palestinian Authority, a national referendum would be held between 60 and 120 days after the Knesset registered its approval.
In the defunct Livni-Shalom proposal, the referendum would have asked every eligible Israeli voter the question, “Are you for or against the agreement with the Palestinian Authority?” The government would then have been required to comply with the results of the referendum.
These days, however, Livni has a different view on allowing the general public to second-guess government rulings.
“It’s sufficient that the government make any significant and dramatic decision,” Livni said Sunday. “That is what the nation elected us to do — to make courageous choices.”