Referendum Bill Moves Forward In Knesset

YERUSHALAYIM -

As prospects for a peace agreement edged upward this week, the Knesset moved forward on requiring a national referendum in the event of proposed territorial concessions.

The plenum approved a bill to upgrade the existing Referendum Law into a basic law in its first reading early Thursday morning, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The bill in its current version was passed by a vote of 66 to 45 with the backing of the government coalition.

Existing law requires a referendum on any concession of sovereign territory, in a peace treaty or as a unilateral move. That would not apply to Yehudah and Shomron, which were never formally annexed by Israel, but it does pertain to Yerushalayim and the Golan.

During the ideological free-for-all that frequently goes by the term “parliamentary discussion” in the Knesset plenum, MK Motti Yogev (Jewish Home) said, “The Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel.”

MK Jamal Zahalke (Balad) responded: “We [Arabs] were here before you, and we’ll be here after you.”

In an unusual move, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu asked to take the podium and said to Zahalke: “The first part isn’t true, and the second won’t be.”

Many MKs rose to applaud, though such demonstrations are a violation of Knesset rules.

“We were here first, because it says so in the Torah,” UTJ MK Moshe Gafni said.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid took the opportunity to agree, at least verbally, with his political nemesis, shouting, “That’s right.”

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett taunted opponents of the bill, saying he doesn’t understand why the left is so against a referendum if they think the nation wants two states for people.

Recent opinion polls show that a majority of Israelis oppose conceding land to the Palestinians.

MK Merav Michaeli (Labor) said, “The Jewish Home doesn’t want to let us reach a peace agreement and is looking for any way to torpedo it.”

MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) criticized Netanyahu, saying, “The prime minister is running away from leadership, citing counter-examples — former prime ministers Begin, Rabin and Sharon — who made historic decisions on their own responsibility despite public opposition.

“If the prime minister wants to present the public with an agreement with the Palestinians and feels a need to get the nation’s permission, he should call an election and gain the public’s confidence again,” Cabel added.