The Knesset approved a bill turning the existing Referendum Law into a basic law in its first
reading early Thursday morning.
The bill was supported by 66 MKs, with 45 MKs voting against the measure after a dramatic debate which included discussions of history and Zionism.
The referendum bill 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.
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.
During the Knesset discussion of the bill, MK Motti Yogev (Bayit Yehudi) said "the Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel," and MK Jamal Zahalke (Balad) responded: "We [Arabs] were here before you and we'll be here after you."
In an unusual move, Netanyahu asked to take the podium and said to Zahalke: "The first part isn't true, and the second won't be."
Many MKs stood up and applauded, which is against the Knesset's rules.
"We were here first, because it says so in the Torah," UTJ MK Moshe Gafni pointed out, and Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who rarely agrees with Gafni on anything, shouted out "that's right."
Soon after, Bennett wrote on Facebook that he's proud of Netanyahu.
Bennett impassionedly defended the Referendum Bill, which his party insisted be promoted by this week, and argued with opposition MKs who spoke out against it.
"You in Shas want to teach me about loving the Land of Israel? [MK] Arye Deri is scolding me? The Land of Israel was divided on your backs!" Bennett said incredulously, referring to the Oslo Accords.
The Bayit Yehudi leader added that he doesn't understand why the Left is so concerned about a referendum if they think the nation wants two states for people.
MK Merav Michaeli (Labor) said that "the Bayit Yehudi don't want to let us reach a peace agreement and are looking for anyway to torpedo it."
According to MK Muhammad Barakei, the coalition is trying to create a "semi-fascist dictatorship."
Expressing opposition to the bill from a different standpoint, MK Nissim Ze'ev (Shas) said "A referendum will legitimize removing Jews from their homes."
Shas MK Avraham Michaeli added that a referendum is a "trick" and the Bayit Yehudi's voters will not forgive the party.
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.