Monday, March 17, 2014

Knesset Passes Referendum Law for Land Concessions

by Marissa Newman

Any plan to cede land in Israel, East Jerusalem, or the Golan Heights, as part of a future peace agreement, must be put to a public referendum, according to a law approved by the Knesset on Wednesday.
The law does not cover the West Bank, where a decision on territorial concessions, precedent suggests, would remain the prerogative of the cabinet.

Sixty-eight Knesset members voted in favor of the bill in both the second and third readings, with none voting against or abstaining, as opposition MKs continued their ongoing boycott of plenum votes on coalition-sponsored bills.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a longtime proponent of the legislation, had voiced his support for the referendum law again earlier Wednesday.

“When we come to make such a fateful decision, if we get to that, it must be brought to the people,” he said. “This is the only way to preserve peace among us, which is no less important, in my eyes, than the external peace [with the Palestinians]. The decision we make today is historic and we must be proud that the coalition passed it.”

The bill, proposed by coalition chair MK Yariv Levin (Likud), MK Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) and Orit Strock (Jewish Home), 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 on the grounds, petitioners claim, that it unconstitutionally limits the powers of the Knesset. The new law anchors the previous law as a “basic law,” which has special constitutional status.

The referendum law was initially met with fierce opposition by a number of prominent Knesset members, including 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 diplomatic settlement.” In a critique leveled at the proposed law, Liberman referred to it as a way for “decision makers to run away from responsibility.”

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

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Marissa Newman


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