Knesset to Vote on Referendums on Any Land Concessions

Planned legislation calls for national ballot to approve any withdrawal from East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights.

The Knesset is expected to pass into law on Monday a bill conditioning any retreat from territories Israel considers to be under its sovereignty upon the holding of a popular referendum.

The bill, proposed by House Committee chairman Yariv Levin (Likud ), sets downs the rules for such a referendum, which would be required in the case of an Israeli pullback from the Golan Heights or East Jerusalem, though not in the West Bank, which has not been annexed to Israel. It comes as an amendment to the existing referendums law. The Knesset will begin debating the bill in the afternoon, and the deliberations are expected to last until late evening.

East Jerusalem neighborhood Issawiya (Alex Levac)
Alex Levac

"This is a bill of the utmost national importance for retaining the unity of the people," said MK Levin. "The bill expresses the need to ensure that any fateful, irreversible decision on giving up parts of the homeland on which the state's sovereignty has been enacted, will no longer be done through wheeling and dealing and recruiting parliamentary support through other issues, as has happened sadly in the past."

MK Einat Wilf (Labor ) said on Sunday she would break ranks with her party despite coalition discipline and would not support the bill. She said she will bring the matter up at the Labor caucus meeting on Monday. "The referendum bill causes grave and unjustified damage to Israel's form of government," she said. "Israel is one of the few states in the world that have survived contiguously as a democracy for over six decades, and it has done so as a parliamentary democracy, in which the Knesset is the supreme political institution representing the sovereignty of the people.

"The referendum is a dangerous instrument in a state that doesn't traditionally use it," said Wilf. "If the Knesset makes a decision and the referendum overturns it, what does it mean about the Knesset as the supreme political institution?"

Last December, 68 MKs, including Labor chairman Ehud Barak and Likud minister Dan Meridor, supported the bill. Twenty-two MKs, including opposition chair Tzipi Livni, opposed it. Barak claimed at the time that he was opposed to the bill, but that if Meretz would make the vote into a confidence vote on the government, Labor would have to vote in favor.

He said at the time that the bill was unnecessary because it places unnecessary constraints on the prime minister, should he decide to negotiate with Syria, and that the constitutional implications of such a referendum meant the subject was better left for a Basic Law applying to other areas as well.