Akunis’s nat’l referendum bill draws flack from MKs

Critics say PM intentionally ‘handcuffing’ himself.

Akunis 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Akunis 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
MK Ophir Akunis (Likud) announced Tuesday that he intends to submit his national referendum bill to the Knesset on the first day of the Winter Session, in an attempt to quickly push through legislation that would mandate a national referendum on any agreement reached with the Palestinians regarding the future of the West Bank.
Akunis’s bill has raised the ire of, among others, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who attacked the bill as a tool by the administration to bypass the Knesset.
Akunis’s bill will include, sources close to the bill said, a framework for establishing the legal basis for national referenda in Israel. A similar framework is currently being legislated in a parallel bill, sponsored by MK Yariv Levin (Likud), which would mandate national referenda any time there is a decision regarding the handing- over of annexed territories in the Golan Heights or Jerusalem.
But while Levin’s bill would mandate a national referendum in addition to a vote on the Knesset floor, Akunis’s bill, if passed, would bypass the Knesset altogether, referring the issue directly from the cabinet to the general public.
“A national referendum is not a miracle-working institution and cannot bypass Israeli democracy,” Rivlin complained to Israel Radio.
Rivlin added that there was no reason that the prime minister could not hold such a referendum, but only after the government and the Knesset had already approved any potential plan.
Rivlin plans to take on the bill when the Knesset reconvenes in October.
Levin’s bill, which was originally sponsored in the previous Knesset by almost all of the Likud’s Knesset faction, has run aground due to delaying tactics from the highest political echelons. That bill was passed for its final readings in the House Committee in July, but has yet to be sent to the plenum for its second and third readings.
Akunis, who is considered one of the closest MKs to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, does not seem to face any such challenges from him. During an early morning interview, Akunis instead tried to emphasize that while the prime minister supported the legislation, it was he, and not his political mentor, who had initiated and drafted the bill.
Akunis’s bill has garnered sporadic support across the Knesset aisles. MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima) praised the bill Tuesday, arguing that he is always in favor of national referenda as an extension of Israeli democracy.
But fellow Kadima MK Nahman Shai blasted the bill, describing it as “an attempt by the prime minister to handcuff himself.
“For every step forward, the government takes two steps backward. The government is elected to govern, and not to ask. The government, with the approval of the Knesset, holds the legal mandate for a complete agreement with the Palestinians.”
Within Likud, MK Danny Danon also attacked the bill, saying that it stemmed from “dishonest motivations” on the part of the prime minister.
“Likud was elected on a certain mandate during the general elections, which are themselves a national referendum,” Danon complained. “The national referendum would be a way for the weak ministers to excuse their continued support for a deal that contradicts that mandate.”