The coalition scrambled to make sure it had the necessary 61 votes necessary to
approve a bill turning the existing Referendum Law into a basic law in its first
reading on Wednesday night.
The referendum bill was was pushed forward
with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s outspoken support and following a
demand from Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett that it be promoted. It
was expected to pass its first reading early on Thursday morning, with debate
starting late on Wednesday night.
Changing the current law requires an
absolute majority (61) of MKs, due to a clause in the legislation, but four
coalition lawmakers were out of the country on Wednesday: Justice Minister Tzipi
Livni (Hatnua), Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud Beytenu), MK Tzachi
Hanegbi (Likud Beytenu) and MK Shuli Muallem (Bayit Yehudi).
back from peace talks in the US and was expected to arrive in time to vote, as
was Hanegbi, who went to a Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer game in Basel, Switzerland,
the night before. Muallem was given permission by coalition chairman Yariv Levin
(Likud Beytenu) to miss the vote, after accidentally booking a family vacation
before the Knesset summer session ended.
Danon, who missed the vote on
the state budget because he attended a family wedding in the US and spoke at a
fundraiser for Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, refused to return for
Wednesday’s session even though Netanyahu and Levin requested he do
The referendum bill reinforces existing law by making it a basic law,
which means it would have constitutional status in the eyes of the Supreme
Court. The current law requires a referendum on any concession of sovereign
territory, in a peace treaty or as a unilateral move. Sovereign territory does
not include Judea and Samaria, but it includes all of Jerusalem and any land
The referendum would be on the entire peace treaty or plan, not
just the concession of sovereign territory, so it would, practically, include
voting on giving away any part of Judea and Samaria if that is part of an
agreement or unilateral disengagement plan.
On Sunday, the referendum
bill was approved in a ministerial vote.
Bennett, who demanded that the
bill be promoted as a condition for the Bayit Yehudi’s support of the state
budget, said the government chose to keep the nation of Israel
“The Land of Israel belongs to the grandfathers of our
grandfathers and the grandsons of our grandsons and no one can give up our right
to it,” he said. “Such a crucial decision cannot be made through political
According to Bennett, “Every decision on giving up part of the
land must be made by the public.”
“[The referendum bill will] prevent
votes being bought by a Mitsubishi in order to approve controversial treaties,”
Levin quipped in reference to former MK Alex Goldfarb who, in 1995, left the
Tzomet party and voted in favor of the Oslo II Accords. Goldfarb became a deputy
minister and received a Mitsubishi as a perk of his new post.
convinced that the nation will not allow the government to give away parts of
our homeland,” Levin added.
“As coalition chairman, I will act to ensure
this bill moves forward quickly and will work to expand it so it includes all of
Judea and Samaria.”
Meanwhile, MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) said “the prime
minister is running away from leadership.
[Former prime ministers] Begin,
Rabin and Sharon made fateful decisions, but took responsibility and understood
that their job requires them to do what the nation needs and not what it
“If the prime minister wants to present the public with an
agreement with the Palestinians and feels a need to get the nation’s permission,
he should call an election and gain the public’s confidence again,” Cabel said.