Netanyahu, Liberman spar over peace-deal referendum

Netanyahu, Liberman spar over peace-deal referendum

Final-status agreement a ‘very important issue’ deserving of public vote, PM says; the government ‘must rule,’ counters former FM

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday defended the idea of a national referendum on any peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority, fending off challenges from within his faction.

“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.”

Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman registered his disagreement.

“There’s a government that must rule; not everything can be passed by 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.

Coalition chair Yariv Levin told the assembled lawmakers that the final draft of a referendum bill had been finalized. The proposed legislation would be presented in the Knesset plenum, where it would “garner a large majority” of supporters, he predicted.

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.

On Sunday, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) came out against the idea of a referendum, following reports that Finance Minister Yair Lapid was considering putting his weight behind the idea, which is being advanced by Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett.

Lapid and his party probably could swing the Knesset vote on a referendum.

“A referendum is a way to forestall Knesset and cabinet decisions,” Livni stated. “The general elections are the true referendum. The Knesset is meant to accept or reject proposals… this is its authority, the mandate we received from the public.”

Bennett was cited in a Yedioth Ahronoth article 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 the street.”

Asher Zeiger contributed to this report.

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