An Act of Constitutional Sabotage

New referendum bill undermines the Knesset’s sovereignty and subverts the foundations of Israeli democracy.

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The diplomatic process is proceeding along two parallel tracks. In one, Israeli and Palestinian delegations are meeting, with American mediation, for the purpose of drafting a framework agreement that would lay the groundwork for a peace agreement. In the second, which is much more active, the Knesset is doing everything in its power to thwart progress in the first track.

There’s no other way to explain the Referendum Bill submitted by MK Yariv Levin (Likud), which has already passed its preliminary vote and is now ready for the final votes. The new bill is meant to turn an identical law approved in the past into a Basic Law, complete with a clause making it harder to change or repeal. Under this provision, an absolute majority of 61 Knesset members would be needed to amend the law, and only a super-majority of 80 MKs would be able to repeal it.

A referendum, which is supposed to seek the public’s consent for dividing Jerusalem or withdrawing from the Golan Heights, is already mandated by other laws, such as the Basic Law on Jerusalem, enacted in 2000. But it seems the Knesset doesn’t trust the prime minister, who declares from every possible platform that dividing Jerusalem is not an option. Moreover, the wall of conditions that the prime minister has placed in front of the diplomatic process – such as Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, the demand that the Jordan Valley remain under Israeli control, and a cessation of incitement as a condition for signing an agreement – offers a rock-solid guarantee that the diplomatic process will trip over one of these obstacles. If so, what possessed lawmakers to propose yet another bill aimed at emptying the diplomatic negotiations of all content precisely now?

It seems these Knesset members aren’t merely afraid of a U-turn in the prime minister’s positions. Instead, they want to deprive any future Knesset that might be chosen in democratic elections of the authority to determine the content of a peace agreement and the future of the state. Such a Knesset would be bound by the results of a referendum, since realistically, it wouldn’t be able to repeal the law.

The bill in its latest incarnation, which was born of a populist caprice, blatantly undermines the Knesset’s sovereignty, subverts the foundations of Israeli democracy and makes a peace agreement impossible from the outset. Those Knesset members who define themselves as peace seekers would be wise to put an immediate stop to this act of constitutional sabotage.

File photo: The Knesset. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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