By Threatening Coalition Over Peace Talks, Bennett Pulls a Political Trick

Economy minister's demand for a referendum on any peace agreement that involves withdrawal from land is no bombshell; in fact, a Basic Law to that effect won't change the current legal situation.

Ever since November 2010, Israeli governments have been bound by law to call a referendum on any agreement that involves withdrawing from land under Israeli sovereignty. The law was passed by an impressive majority of 65 to 33. It includes precise instructions as to where voting booths would be placed, how the votes would be counted and the manner in which the sides would be able to present their positions. Even the question has already been determined: "Are you for or against the agreement approved by the Knesset?"

For the past 48 hours, the local media have been preoccupied with Economy Minister Naftali Bennett's "political bombshell": an ultimatum that if the Knesset doesn't swiftly advance a Basic Law mandating a referendum, his Habayit Hayehudi party won't support the budget.

This is nothing more than a political trick. Bennett won't topple the government, and he won't vote against the budget. Nor will a Basic Law essentially change the current legal situation.

Bennett's bill, like the existing law, 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.

Moreover, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to hold a referendum in any case, as he said explicitly.

When asked at a Likud faction meeting on Tuesday what would happen if an agreement didn't involve ceding sovereign territory, he answered, "We can always agree to withdraw from two meters in the Jerusalem area and activate the referendum law."

The only value of Bennett's bill would be if the existing law were challenged in court on the grounds that it violated existing Basic Laws. The High Court of Justice has already agreed to hear a petition against the existing law, and coalition chairman Yariv Levin, who cosponsored the new bill, said he would not have done so had he not feared the court might overturn the old one.

Thus senior political sources said yesterday that Bennett's demand is little more than a bid for publicity: Habayit Hayehudi would like to present such a bill as a parliamentary achievement before the Knesset's summer recess begins next week. In similar fashion, other coalition parties are also hoping to secure achievements in the next few days: Likud takes pride in the daylight savings time law and a reform of building permits; Hatnuah in the renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians; Yesh Atid in the bill to draft yeshiva students, which passed a preliminary reading; and Yisrael Beiteinu hopes to pass the governability law.