Referendum basic law ready for final Knesset vote

Referendum basic law ready for final Knesset vote

Semi-constitutional bill would require a public vote to approve any concessions of land in Israel, East Jerusalem or Golan Heights

Yariv Levin. (Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Yariv Levin. (Uri Lenz/Flash90)

A new constitutional basic law requiring a public referendum for any relinquishing of land inside sovereign Israel, on the Golan Heights, or in Jerusalem areas captured in the 1967 war, passed out of committee on Wednesday toward a final vote in the Knesset plenum.

The bill does not cover the West Bank, where a decision on territorial concessions, precedent suggests, would remain the prerogative of the government.

The bill, proposed by coalition chair MK Yariv Levin (Likud), is nearly identical to a 2010 law that requires a public referendum for land-for-peace deals. But the earlier law faces a High Court of Justice petition asking the court to strike it down on the grounds that it unconstitutionally limits the powers of the Knesset. The new bill would anchor the previous law in a “basic law,” which has a special constitutional status, creating a constitutional basis for stripping the Knesset of the power to cede land.

The new bill passed its first reading in the Knesset in August with 66 in favor and 45 opposed. It left the Knesset Law Committee after its final markup on Wednesday, and is set to come up for the second and third readings — which are done together — in the coming weeks.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has voiced his support for the bill on numerous occasions.

“Any agreement reached [with the Palestinians] will come to a referendum,” Netanyahu declared in a Likud-Beytenu faction meeting on December 9. “I committed to it and this is essentially correct and would happen if any agreement is reached.”

The referendum bill was initially met with fierce opposition by a number of prominent Knesset members, including current Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu), former opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich (Labor), Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua), who is managing the talks with the Palestinians.

“When we declare war, we don’t ask the people,” Livni said in July. “This is how it should also be regarding any political settlement.” In a critique leveled at the proposed law, Liberman referred to the bill as a way for “decision makers to run away from responsibility.”

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) has touted a referendum as “the only way to prevent a rift in the nation.”

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