Referendum bill back on Knesset track

Golan-east Jerusalem Ref

As early as Wednesday, the Golan Heights and Jerusalem Referendum Bill could return to the Knesset plenum for a key vote, after a late-night decision Tuesday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation ensured coalition support for the controversial bill. The bill, which would require a majority vote to approve any withdrawal from east Jerusalem or the Golan, areas that are under Israeli sovereignty, passed its first reading during the previous Knesset, and was supposed to be submitted for its second and third readings on the first day of the winter session of the last Knesset, but the elections intervened. When the Knesset reconvened in the spring, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted to revive the bill, but the bill's progress was blocked when Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor appealed the ministerial committee's previous decision to support the legislation. Meridor complained that the law would tie the hands of the government in future peace negotiations, saying in the appeal that the bill would "add a harmful and unnecessary burden to the State of Israel, which will be seen as mounting obstacles against any possible peace agreement." On Tuesday evening, the committee ruled by a vote of 5-2 to reject Meridor's appeal, enabling the bill to return to the Knesset floor for a vote to renew the legislative process and continue with preparations for its second and third readings. "We must safeguard the Land of Israel and accelerate the legislative process, in order to prevent a future possibility of retreat against the will of the people," said Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz, shortly after the committee's vote. MK Yariv Levin (Likud) who chairs the special committee tasked with preparing the legislation concerning national referenda, expressed confidence Tuesday evening that the bill would garner wide-reaching support in the Knesset. All the details of how a referendum would work would first have to be worked out by Levin's committee. Although at its inception, the bill was widely seen as a stop-gap effort to block then-prime minister Ehud Olmert from giving up the Golan Heights as part of a Syrian peace deal, its original sponsors included two Kadima MKs. Now, it is highly likely that a number of opposition members, including some Kadima MKs, will also vote in favor of the bill. Likud officials denied any connection between the bill and announcements Monday by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that he was prepared to renew talks with Syria. The bill would require that any return of land under administration and judicial authority of the State of Israel pass a national referendum as well as be approved by the cabinet and the Knesset. The bill does, however, offer the government a way out - in the event that the concession passes the Knesset by a two-thirds majority or in a case when within 180 days after the Knesset okays the government decision, a general election for the Knesset is held.