Although the Knesset House Committee advanced a bill that would limit the prime minister’s options during any future negotiations on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, sources close to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that it would be months before the bill came to a final vote on the Knesset floor.
The House Committee voted 6-2 in favor of the Golan Heights and Jerusalem national referendum bill, despite the Prime Minister’s Office’s staunch opposition to the legislation. It now goes to the Knesset for its second and third readings.
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The bill would require a national referendum in any instance in which Israel agreed in diplomatic talks to hand over areas annexed by Israel. Both the Golan Heights and parts of municipal Jerusalem located beyond the Green Line have been annexed.
Under to the law, any such deal must first be approved by the Knesset; if it passes, it must be put to a national referendum within 180 days.
“This is a law of supreme national importance to maintain the unity of the state, a law that has won support across parties and political camps,” said House Committee Chairman MK Yariv Levin (Likud), who chaired the special committee tasked with preparing the bill for its second and third readings.
“This law will require all leaders of Israel to arrive at agreements that are good for Israel, acceptable to the general public, and will maintain our rights in the Land of Israel.”
The bill tasks the Central Elections Committee with running any future referendum, and would declare any referendum day to be equivalent to an election day.
The format of the referendum question will be phrased, simply: “Are you in favor of or opposed to the agreement approved by the Knesset?” Sources close to Netanyahu told The Jerusalem Post
Wednesday that the bill had been passed pending consultation with the government on a number of key issues, and that until those issues were resolved, the bill would not be brought to the plenum.
Although the Ministerial Committee for Legislation had backed the bill, and the coalition had supported reviving it for debate with the commencement of the current Knesset, the official said that the prime minister now wants the bill delayed for as long as possible. At a minimum, they said, the bill is not likely to reach the floor until the Knesset’s winter session, which begins in October.
Kadima MK Shlomo Molla, who voted against the bill, said that “it would appear that Likud does not trust its own prime minister to keep hold of the Golan. The passing of the bill will limit the prime minister’s ability to act.” Molla added that the bill’s real aim is to bury negotiations with the Syrians.
Molla’s opinion – that the bill is meant to block any potential turnover of land – was echoed by a number of left-wing MKs, including MK Haim Oron (Meretz).
But MK Daniel Ben-Simon (Labor) said that it was exactly the fact that the bill was meant to counter-balance the influence of the legislature that made him support it.
“I always opposed referenda because they were meant to bypass the Knesset and the broad public consensus in the Nineties that supported handing over the Golan Heights, but times have changed, and after a year-and-a-half in what I believe to be the most extremist Knesset in the history of Israel, I support such a bill,” said Ben-Simon.
“In the past, national referenda were suggested as a way to block any
final agreements, but now it would help to approve them, because
otherwise, Netanyahu has no way to get an agreement through the Knesset
without risking splitting the Likud and his coalition,” he continued.
“If Netanyahu were to hold a vote in the Knesset alone on withdrawing
from the Golan Heights, it would fail. Times have changed. There is no
Menachem Begin, no Ariel Sharon and no Yitzhak Rabin. Instead of
leaders, there are governmental technicians."
“Now the greater wisdom is not within the government, but among the
general public,” concluded Ben-Simon, who acknowledged that many of his
fellow Labor MKs did not agree with his position.