Netanyahu: Government to pass referendum law 'soon'

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett makes ultimatum: Bayit Yehudi won't support budget without Referendum Bill.

Naftali Bennett at cabinet meeting 370 (photo credit: Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Yediot Aharonot)
Naftali Bennett at cabinet meeting 370
(photo credit: Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Yediot Aharonot)
The government will pass a law requiring a referendum on any peace treaty, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced Monday.
“For years, I have said that any diplomatic agreement must be brought to a referendum,” Netanyahu said at a press conference in the Knesset.
“An agreement that does not get the authorization of the nation is not worthy of being signed.”
The prime minister explained that a peace treaty is different from other decisions, because it “determines destinies,” and every citizen ought to have his or her say on it.
“I will bring supplementary legislation [on a referendum] to the government and then the Knesset,” Netanyahu stated.
“This is a law that passed in the last Knesset, but we will supplement and strengthen it by making it a government bill.”
Netanyahu added that “attaining peace is a vital goal for the State of Israel. Peace and security are difficult and complex goals, and we must work toward our vital goals and our security through negotiations.”
“Peace with our neighbors requires peace among ourselves, and the way to ensure this is through a referendum,” he concluded.
A source close to Netanyahu said that he is unlikely to bring the bill to a vote in its final readings during the Knesset summer recess, even though he legally could. He said the most likely scenario is that it would be passed into law when the Knesset returns to session on October 13.
Netanyahu’s comments followed an ultimatum by Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett that unless the coalition makes progress on the Referendum Bill, his party will vote against the budget.
In light of Bennett’s demands, coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud Beytenu) expressed confidence that an emergency Ministerial Committee for Legislation meeting will take place this week to discuss a bill submitted by Levin and Bayit Yehudi MKs Ayelet Shaked and Orit Struck on Monday morning that would turn an existing law requiring a referendum on any peace talk with land swaps into a Basic Law.
“We will support the budget, but insist that the referendum move forward by then,” Bennett said at a Bayit Yehudi faction meeting Monday. “A referendum is a way to stop the nation from being torn apart.”
The Referendum Bill is one of two bills the Bayit Yehudi- Likud Beytenu coalition agreement says must be passed in the current Knesset session, which ends August 4.
The Referendum Law, which passed in 2010, states that any peace agreement in which Israel gives up sovereign land must be approved via referendum if less than 80 MKs vote in favor of the treaty. Evacuating parts of the West Bank would not require a referendum, but dividing Jerusalem, giving away the Golan Heights or signing a land-swap deal would.
Levin, Shaked and Struck’s bill turns the existing Referendum Law into a Basic Law, giving it constitutional value and reinforcing the law so it can only be canceled by a majority of 61 MKs. This would make it very difficult for the current law to be canceled if the government comes to an agreement with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu signaled that his planned Referendum Bill will be different from the aforementioned one, because he said he will “strengthen [the existing law] by making it a government bill,” and not by making it a Basic Law, though some in the coalition said the prime minister would simply adopt the Levin-Shaked- Struck version as government legislation.
Bennett explained that he made this ultimatum so the bill will progress quickly.
“I said Bayit Yehudi will not sit in a government that negotiates based on ’67 lines, and now it isn’t happening. When we insist, we bring results,” he said.
Bennett referred to the Oslo Accords, which passed 20 years ago, saying it was approved “by a margin of one vote by a political deserter who was given a job.”
“We remember – it has been 8 years since the disengagement and 20 since Oslo. We will not lend a hand to ‘Mitsubishi agreements,’” he quipped, referring to the car given to deputy ministers at the time of Oslo. “We’re still eating their rotten fruits,” he declared.
“Bayit Yehudi opposes a Palestinian state and we oppose giving the Land of Israel to our enemies, period. This is the land of our fathers, and only the people can decide what to do with it. Nothing will go wrong if we hold a referendum on the future of our nation; this will have an effect on future generations, the great-grandchildren of our great grandchildren.”
Later Monday, Levin said that he, Shaked and Struck submitted the bill that morning because they were confident it would pass.
Levin is working to arrange a Ministerial Committee for Legislation meeting to take place by Wednesday so it can be brought to a first vote next week.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, chairwoman of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, adamantly opposes a referendum, reiterating her opinion in Monday’s Hatnua faction meeting.
Yesh Atid has yet to officially decide whether or not to support a referendum, and opinions are split within the party.
Earlier this year, the faction discussed the matter, but decided to postpone a decision until the bill came up for a vote.
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman opposes a referendum on the grounds that elections give the government a mandate to make decisions.
However, he said he would support the Referendum Bill if the coalition decides to back it.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich called Bennett’s ultimatum a “spin” and accused him of being “very selective” about referendums.
“If they believe that democratic elections aren’t enough, why isn’t there a referendum on the budget? The budget hurts 99 percent of the public, and the public clearly understands economics better than the government,” she stated.
According to Yacimovich, “the whole purpose of a referendum is to torpedo the chances of diplomatic negotiations before they even start.”
“The goal isn’t peace talks,” she said. “Talks happen so there will be an agreement that will allow us to continue our vision of a Jewish and democratic state.”