Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to bring in the referendum bill for a cabinet vote on Sunday, and then submit it to the Knesset for a preliminary vote on Wednesday before the parliament disbands for summer recess. The bill stipulates that, if an agreement that is reached with the Palestinians calls for Israeli withdrawal from territory, the public would have to approve it in a referendum for it to take effect. Netanyahu is expediting the bill in response to pressure from the extreme right wing, spearheaded by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.
Netanyahu’s aides distributed a memo to ministers on Thursday saying: “In view of the significant developments leading to the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the premier views it as urgent to approve a proposal requiring a referendum regarding an agreement or cabinet decision involving the renunciation of applying law, jurisdiction and administration on territories belonging to Israel.” Still, the prime minister is confident he has a way around this problem. At a Likud Knesset faction meeting this week, MKs complained to him about this political shortcoming in the bill. Netanyahu told them that if an agreement with the Palestinians included withdrawal from the West Bank, he would throw in a “couple of square meters of sovereign territory in Jerusalem,” and thereby bring about a referendum on the whole package.
Occupation of the Palestinian territories: Palestinian women wait to cross from Qalandiya checkpoint outside Ramallah, West Bank, into Jerusalem to attend the Ramadan Friday Prayers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, July 19, 2013 (Photo: Activestills)
Dr. Mohammed Wattad, a law professor at Safed Academic College, petitioned the High Court of Justice against the bill. He argued that the legislation contradicts two Basic Laws, which touch upon the functions of the Knesset and the government, because it fundamentally changes the governmental system, taking away from the Knesset and government the authority to decide. Therefore, he maintained, only a Basic Law can supersede another Basic Law.
MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) on Friday slammed Netanyahu’s intention to speed up the referendum legislation. “Netanyahu is making it clear he doesn’t really want peace,” Khenin said. “Apparently construction in the settlements and ongoing occupation isn’t enough, he also has to sabotage any peace agreement with a referendum.” “But if we hold a referendum, why only regarding peace, what about war?” Khenin demanded. “And why not use a referendum on the government’s favoring the settlements over Israeli society? Or how about holding a referendum over nationalizing natural resources or against ports’ privatization?”