Knesset Establishes Panel on Referendum Bill

The Knesset House Committee decided yesterday to establish a special committee to discuss a bill that would require a national referendum to be held before any withdrawal from areas under Israeli sovereignty, even in the absence of a Basic Law to determine the referendum procedures.

The initiative, sponsored by former coalition whip MK Avigdor Yitzhaki (Kadima), is significant in the context of the public debate over whether to enter into peace negotiations with Syria, which wants Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights.

While there is already a law that mandates a referendum before relinquishing land under Israeli sovereignty, that law conditions the plebiscite on the passage of a Basic Law on national referenda. "Such a Basic Law won't get passed during my lifetime," Yitzhaki said.

Yitzhaki's bill calls for the ground rules of a national referendum to be set by the Central Elections Commission rather than in a Basic Law - a position opposed by MK Menachem Ben-Sasson (Kadima), who chairs the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

"It's not appropriate for national referendum procedures to be set by the elections commission instead of in a Basic Law," said Ben-Sasson.

Both he and the House Committee's legal adviser argued that Ben-Sasson's committee should handle the bill, and the coalition supported this view. However, Yitzhaki opposed this idea, saying that Ben-Sasson was against the bill and would be likely to put off dealing with it. Therefore, in an effort to find a compromise acceptable to both sides, the House Committee agreed to set up a special panel under the joint jurisdictions of the House and Constitution Committees. It will be headed by MK Ruhama Avraham (Kadima), who supports the bill.