Netanyahu to bring referendum bill to vote after Bennett ultimatum

Basic Law: Referendum is expected to be approved in a ministerial vote and brought to the Knesset for a first reading Wednesday.

Netanyahu at cabinet meeting 370 (photo credit: Pool/Eli Selman)
Netanyahu at cabinet meeting 370
(photo credit: Pool/Eli Selman)
The cabinet will vote on Sunday on a new Basic Law requiring a referendum on peace treaties affecting sovereign land. The Prime Minister’s Office distributed a copy of the legislation to ministers for review on Thursday.
“Basic Law: Referendum” is expected to be approved in a ministerial vote and brought to the Knesset for a first reading on Wednesday. The PMO is looking into the possibility of bringing it back for second and third (final) readings on the same day, allowing it to become law next week, a senior government source said.
Because the legislation only deals with sovereign land, the government will not have to hold a referendum to sign a treaty giving parts of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians. However, if a peace agreement includes land swaps or parts of Jerusalem, it would require a popular vote.
The speedy legislative process is explained in the PMO’s introduction to the bill: “In light of significant diplomatic developments leading to the opening of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, the government sees an importance and urgency, together with talks, to pass a Basic Law requiring a referendum in the case of an agreement or government decision requiring the concession of law, judiciary and management of territory in the State of Israel.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s quick movement on the bill came three days after Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett threatened that his Bayit Yehudi party would not support the government’s budget, which will be brought to a vote Monday, if no progress is made on the referendum bill.
Netanyahu pointed out that he already supported the idea of a referendum because peace treaties “determine destinies” and citizens ought to have a say in the matter.
“Peace with our neighbors requires peace among ourselves, and the way to ensure this is through a referendum,” the prime minister stated.
The government bill calls for a law requiring a referendum after the government signs any treaty giving away sovereign Israeli land, passed in 2010, to be turned into a Basic Law. It is almost identical to a bill submitted by coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud Beytenu) and Bayit Yehudi MKs Ayelet Shaked and Orit Struck earlier this week.
Basic Laws are considered by the Supreme Court to have ascendant, constitutional status.
The government bill also includes a clause requiring support from a minimum of 61 MKs in order to cancel or change the law, and saying that the law cannot be ignored because of emergency ordinances.
Earlier this week, Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) decided his party would support the referendum bill. However, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, chairwoman of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, repeated her commitment to vote against such legislation at every opportunity, with the agreement of most of her party.
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman opposes a referendum but has said that he would support the idea if it became government policy. He gave his ministers permission to vote as they see fit.
In addition to the referendum bill, the cabinet is also expected on Sunday to appoint a ministerial committee to “oversee” the negotiations with the Palestinians, which are expected to start this week in Washington.
While Livni, accompanied by Netanyahu’s personal envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, will be the chief negotiator for Israel, the ministerial committee – which will be smaller than the seven-member security cabinet – is expected to set the overall guidelines.
Some are viewing its establishment as an effort by those in the Likud and on the coalition’s right flank to “keep an eye” on Livni, who is considered on the government’s left edge.
One official said, however, that Netanyahu and Livni meet often and were “well coordinated” on the diplomatic process.
The ministerial committee is also expected to be empowered with decisionmaking regarding when and how many Palestinian prisoners will be released as part of the talks.
The committee is expected to be made up of Netanyahu, Livni, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch. •