Coalition strains to find votes for Referendum Bill

Legislation turning existing law requiring referendum on territorial concessions into Basic Law faces first reading.

Cabinet sitting down Knesset 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Cabinet sitting down Knesset 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The coalition scrambled to make sure it had the necessary 61 votes necessary to approve a bill turning the existing Referendum Law into a basic law in its first reading on Wednesday night.
The referendum bill was 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. It was expected to pass its first reading early on Thursday morning, with debate starting late on Wednesday night.
Changing the current law requires an absolute majority (61) of MKs, due to a clause in the legislation, but four coalition lawmakers were out of the country on Wednesday: Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua), Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud Beytenu), MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud Beytenu) and MK Shuli Muallem (Bayit Yehudi).
Livni flew back from peace talks in the US and was expected to arrive in time to vote, as was Hanegbi, who went to a Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer game in Basel, Switzerland, the night before. Muallem was given permission by coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud Beytenu) to miss the vote, after accidentally booking a family vacation before the Knesset summer session ended.
Danon, who missed the vote on the state budget because he attended a family wedding in the US and spoke at a fundraiser for Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, refused to return for Wednesday’s session even though Netanyahu and Levin requested he do so.
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 swaps.
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.
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 united.
“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 tricks.”
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.
“I am 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 wants.
“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.