Cabinet approves bill that would mandate referendum prior to territorial withdrawal
Despite initial vote in favor, Ehud Barak pulls about-face and attacks proposal
The Ministerial Committee on Legislation decided yesterday that the government will support a bill detailing the process of a referendum that would be held before Israel withdraws from any sovereign territory including the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and the Negev. Although a bill obliging the government to hold a referendum has already been passed, the current bill introduces detailed procedures of such a referendum, without which the law would remain redundant.
The ministers have introduced several conditions into the bill, stipulating that if the Knesset has a majority of 80 out of the 120 MKs in support of an agreement that includes such a withdrawal, there would be no need to hold a referendum. The clause is a compromise between a proposal demanding 90 MKs to ratify the agreement and a proposal demanding just 61 MKs.
While the current referendum bill demands a referendum only on territories under Israeli jurisdiction, MK Ofir Akunis (Likud ) is sponsoring a bill demanding a referendum over any agreement involving a handover of territory to the Palestinians.
The bill passed its first reading in the previous Knesset, which included it in the contiguity bill allowing the next plenum of the house to continue the legislative process. In July, the House Committee approved the bill for second and third reading.
Although Defense Minister Ehud Barak was one of the 68 MKs who supported the bill in its last vote in the Knesset, he changed positions yesterday and attacked the referendum proposal. "The referendum bill as supported by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation places a question mark over the government's desire and ability to lead a diplomatic process," Barak said.
A statement from Barak's office further said that "the government of Israel, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, has committed to progress in the peace process, and the government must do whatever is needed to remove from its way the obstacle to peace posed by this unnecessary bill."
The statement also said most Israeli citizens want a diplomatic process focused on security needs and an end to the conflict, and the ministerial committee decision significantly damages the chances of realizing that desire.
Other opponents of the bill yesterday included ministers Dan Meridor and Isaac Herzog. Kadima MK Nachman Shai said the bill was a critical blow to parliamentary democracy. "The government is afraid of peace and of its own shadow," Shai said. "It hides behind the public instead of leading it."