The need to pass a law that requires a referendum before finalizing a two-state
peace agreement with the Palestinians has received new-found relevance after the
Arab League reiterated a 2002 peace initiative that included a softer stance on
borders. Meanwhile, a lethal terrorist attack on Tuesday at Tapuach Junction in
Samaria was a terrible reminder that hatred and incitement against Israel are
still an integral part of Palestinian and Arab worldviews and continue to
represent the biggest obstacle to peace.
If anything, the brutal stabbing
of Evyatar Borovsky, a father of five from the settlement of Yitzhar, emphasized
the sacrifices made over the years by Israeli citizens living in Judea and
Samaria – places resonant with historical significance for Jews who settled
there with the full support of successive Israeli governments.
speaking on behalf of an Arab League delegation to Washington, Qatari Prime
Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem al-Thani restated a peace initiative first
floated in 2002, but this time with a new and potentially significant
The Arab League, it seems, is now ready for “comparable,” mutually
agreed and “minor” land swaps as part of a two-state solution. Thani’s statement
seems to provide Arab League recognition for a Jewish state that includes major
settlement blocs. The Arab League announcement came on the same day that
coalition members debated the merits of requiring a referendum before finalizing
a two-state solution with the Palestinians. A day later, Borovsky was stabbed to
death as he waited for a bus.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yisrael
Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman oppose in principle the idea of a referendum
(though Liberman said he would support one if the coalition does). Both argued
that holding a referendum weakened the government’s authority by transferring
the decision-making process to the people.
“It’s the government’s job to
make decisions,” stated Livni.
Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich, meanwhile,
argued that the concept of a referendum was inherently undemocratic and was an
attempt to torpedo chances for peace.
“The selectiveness [in referendum
topics] speaks for itself,” said Yacimovich.
There is no precedent in
Israel for a referendum of any kind nor is there a Basic Law that would govern
how a referendum should be held. However, the idea has been raised from time to
time, usually in connection with territorial compromises.
In his losing
campaign for prime minister against Binyamin Netanyahu after the assassination
of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres promised that he would put
any final peace agreement with the Palestinians to a referendum. Peres hoped
that such a move would sway voters who, faced with suicide bombings planned and
executed by Hamas that claimed dozens of innocent Israeli lives in the months
leading up to the 1996 elections, were becoming increasingly skeptical of the
Rabin had said that he would call a referendum before an
agreement was signed with Syria on a pullout from the strategic Golan Heights.
In 1999, Ehud Barak’s One Israel party, a short-lived moniker for the Labor
party, included a referendum on its platform.
But memories are short. In
2010 when Netanyahu came out in favor of a referendum bill and this week when
the prime minister once again expressed his support for the motion, he was
criticized on the Left for attempting to block chances of a peace
It is highly unlikely that the new Arab League peace initiative
will lead to substantive and direct negotiations between Israel and the
Palestinians. Too many obstacles stand in the way, not the least of which are
the unceasing incitement in schools and in official Palestinian media against
Israel and Israelis and the split in leadership between Hamas-controlled Gaza
and the Fatah-controlled West Bank.
But if and when a peace agreement is
formulated, it can only be implemented if it receives broad and unequivocal
support from Israelis. Ariel Sharon’s refusal to hold a referendum before
pulling out of Gaza and dismantling the Jewish settlements there and in northern
Samaria probably exacerbated tensions that threatened to rip Israeli society
Only a referendum could provide the legitimacy for the
implementation of territorial compromises and other aspects of a future peace
agreement with the Palestinians, provided, of course, the referendum’s results
were based on a high turnout and a clear majority. No democratically elected
government could ever command the sort of broad support needed for such a