Barak, Rivlin blast ministers for okaying referendum bill

Defense minister: Law, which would require national referendum in any case in which Israel agrees to hand over annexed areas, unnecessary.

barak_311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
The Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved a bill on Monday requiring a national referendum before relinquishing land in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, but the legislation still faces an uphill battle due to fierce opposition from Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Labor) and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud).
Submitted by Knesset House Committee chairman Yariv Levin (Likud), the legislation would require either a national referendum or a supporting Knesset vote of 80 MKs in any instance in which Israel agreed in diplomatic talks to hand over areas under Israel sovereignty (i.e., in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line or on the Golan Heights).
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According to the bill, any such deal would, within 180 days, be put to a national referendum that would be run by the Central Elections Committee.
The day of the vote would not be a work holiday.
With the government’s support, the bill is likely to pass in the coming weeks, provided that Barak does not persuade Netanyahu to prevent it from coming to a vote.
Barak called the bill “a concrete block on the head of efforts to advance the diplomatic process.” He complained about the legislation in a meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the Knesset.
“The bill raises questions about the government’s desire and ability to lead the peace process,” Barak said, in a statement released by the Defense Ministry.
“The government pledged to advance the peace process, and this unnecessary bill serves as an obstacle to this process. The Israeli public wants a diplomatic process that focuses on security issues and an end to the conflict. The ministerial committee’s decision fundamentally harms the possibility to realize this objective,” he said.
Rivlin said, in his speech opening the Knesset’s winter session, that the government could not use a referendum to bypass the Knesset. The real referendum that should be used to gauge public opinion was Knesset elections, he said.
“Referendums are not rabbits that can be pulled out of a hat at difficult times,” Rivlin said.
“Reforms can be made, but the government cannot coerce the Knesset to accept steps taken using improper methods.”
Ministers who voted in favor of the bill included Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud), Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat (Likud) and Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi).
Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog (Labor) and Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor (Likud) voted against it.
Meridor pushed to equalize the bill by also requiring a referendum in order to annex territory.
Another bill will be submitted this week by MK Ophir Akunis (Likud) that would require a referendum on any deal with the Palestinian Authority. Akunis will ask the House Committee to expedite this legislation.
MK Danny Danon (Likud) submitted a bill that would require a prime minister to bring any potential peace deal to the Knesset before signing it.
Rebecca Anna Stoil and Michal Toiba contributed to this report.