A day after the Knesset voted to revive the Golan Heights National Referendum Bill, key Likud MKs on Thursday denied that the government was dragging its feet on the bill - but added that it would be months before the bill's second and third readings.
"There have been rumors about the government stretching out the bill for months now," said Coalition Chair MK Ze'ev Elkin. "But the fact is, we brought it for a vote yesterday."
Elkin added that "there are a lot of details left to work out, and it will take a number of months before the bill is ready to be voted on again."
The bill would require that any return of land under administrative and judicial authority of the State of Israel pass a national referendum as well as secure government and Knesset approval. Territories that would mandate a referendum include the Golan Heights and any part of Jerusalem within the municipal boundaries.
The bill does allow the government to avoid such a referendum in the event that the concession passes the Knesset by a two-thirds majority, or in a case when, within 180 days after the Knesset okays a government decision, a general election is held.
In its original form the bill describes the conditions under which a national referendum must be held, but does not answer key questions regarding the administration of such a vote.
"I intend to work intensively and continuously to prepare the bill, but I can't say if it will take three months or six months," said MK Yariv Levine (Likud), who chairs the joint committee of the House Committee and Law Committee tasked with preparing the bill for its final readings.
Levine had asked Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to bring the bill up for a vote to revive it a month ago, but Netanyahu demurred, asking Levine to wait until a more politically suitable date. Levine told The Jerusalem Post that in recent days he had reiterated his request "using heavy pressure" on the prime minister, who acceded.
Levine said that the government had aided him in his efforts to return the bill to its active legislation, helping to enlist the votes of Labor and United Torah Judaism members who would have otherwise opposed it.
"Formally, the bill could pass by 1 to 0, but it is important to me that it passes by as wide a margin as possible to offer it greater legitimacy," explained Levine. "That's why I agreed to wait a month when the prime minister requested me to do so, and that remains a major challenge as we proceed with the bill's legislation."
A second major challenge, said Levine, is the myriad technical questions on the logistics of a national referendum.
"There are very complex questions involving advertising in advance of a referendum, such as who would fund the advertising and in which venues, Levine explained. "There is also the issue of the vote itself - which bodies would be in charge of regulating the polling stations themselves? Usually, this is the job of political parties' representatives, but in this case, it is hard to define who represents a pro vote or a con vote."
After the dramatic Wednesday roll-call vote, Syria's Foreign Ministry criticized the vote to revive the bill as a "blatant defiance" of the international community. Damascus says the bill is "illegal" because it contradicts international law and resolutions.
AP contributed to this report