Netanyahu to bring referendum bill up for cabinet vote on Sunday
Proposal would not require public approval for withdrawal from West Bank because Israeli law doesn't apply there, but PM says he has way around that.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to bring in the referendum bill for a cabinet vote on Sunday, and then submit it to the Knesset for a preliminary vote on Wednesday before the parliament disbands for summer recess.
The bill stipulates that, if an agreement that is reached with the Palestinians calls for Israeli withdrawal from territory, the public would have to approve it in a referendum for it to take effect. Netanyahu is expediting the bill in response to pressure from the right wing, spearheaded by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.
Netanyahu's aides distributed a memo to ministers on Thursday saying: "In view of the significant developments leading to the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the premier views it as urgent to approve a proposal requiring a referendum regarding an agreement or cabinet decision involving the renunciation of applying law, jurisdiction and administration on territories belonging to Israel."
Bennett's bill, like the existing law from 2010, applies only to lands under Israeli sovereignty, meaning a decision to evacuate settlements would not require a referendum. The public would be asked to express its opinion only if the government decided to withdraw from Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, or parts of Israel that might be included in land swaps.
The bill, however, does not require a referendum in the case of withdrawal from the West Bank, which is not sovereign Israeli territory. Netanyahu sought to have the referendum bill apply to the West Bank, too, but was told this was impossible because Israeli law does not apply to the occupied territories.
Still, the prime minister is confident he has a way around this problem. At a Likud Knesset faction meeting this week, MKs complained to him about this political shortcoming in the bill. Netanyahu told them that if an agreement with the Palestinians included withdrawal from the West Bank, he would throw in a couple of square meters of sovereign territory in Jerusalem, and thereby bring about a referendum on the whole package.
Dr. Mohammed Wattad, a law professor at Safed Academic College, petitioned the High Court of Justice against the 2010 law. He argued that the legislation contradicts two Basic Laws, which touch upon the functions of the Knesset and the government, because it fundamentally changes the governmental system, taking away from the Knesset and government the authority to decide. Therefore, he maintained, only a Basic Law can supersede another Basic Law.
Bennett in a hurry
Bennett said he wanted the preliminary reading of the bill to take place immediately, due to the impending resumption of talks with the Palestinians and possibility of a unilateral decision to withdraw from land in the West Bank.
This is why he is pushing for a Basic Law on the referendum that may only be revoked with a majority of at least 61 Knesset members.
MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) on Thursday slammed Netanyahu's intention to speed up the referendum legislation.
"Netanyahu is making it clear he doesn't really want peace," Khenin said.
"Apparently construction in the settlements isn't enough, he also has to sabotage any peace agreement with a referendum.
"But if we hold a referendum, why only regarding peace, what about war?" Khenin demanded. "And why not have a referendum on the government's favoring the settlements over Israeli society? Or how about holding a referendum over nationalizing natural resources?"
Coalition chairman Yariv Levin, who drafted the referendum law, has been pressuring the prime minister's aides to turn the bill into a government proposal, thus facilitating legislation.