Israel Passes Law Requiring Referendum on Land Concessions

Knesset passes referendum bill as a virtually unchallengeable Basic Law that requires popular approval for any withdrawal from Israeli territory as part of peace deal.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Knesset on Wednesday approved the third and final bill of the coalition's "package deal" – the referendum law, thus enshrining as a virtually unchallengeable Basic Law the requirement of popular approval for any withdrawal from sovereign Israeli territory.

In an unusual move prior to the vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mounted the podium and called on Knesset members to pass the legislation. "A decision on a diplomatic agreement must be acceptable to the public," Netanyahu said. He contended that if a peace agreement with the Palestinians is reached – "and this is a big 'if,'" he noted – approval of it by the public in a referendum "is the only thing that will preserve the domestic peace among us."

Under the law, any government decision to give up part of Jerusalem or the Golan Heights, which Israel annexed, would require approval in a referendum before it could be carried out. But the law would not apply to withdrawals from the West Bank, which was not annexed.

The Knesset first passed a referendum law in 2010 as a regular law, which can be overturned by a simple majority of Knesset members or the High Court of Justice. Now that the referendum law is a Basic Law, the Israeli equivalent of a constitutional provision, it is beyond the purview of the High Court, and can only be overturned by an absolute Knesset majority of 61 votes.

The bill was sponsored by Habayit Hayehudi, and widely supported by the right wing as an obstacle to withdrawals from Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. Its passage follows that of the other two bills in the package deal – the Haredi draft law, and the law raising the electoral threshold.

The Knesset plenum.Credit: Emil Salman

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