Knesset passes first Basic Law in 22 years: Referendum on land concessions

Law requires a referendum on any treaty that entails giving up land to which Israeli law applies.

Knesset 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Knesset 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The referendum law requiring a referendum on concessions of any sovereign land became a Basic Law, with the support of 68 MKs and none opposed on Wednesday.
Basic Law: Referendum is the first new Basic Law since the so-called constitutional revolution of 1992, when Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom and Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation passed.
Basic Laws are considered by the Supreme Court to be superior to other laws, and legislation contradicting Basic Laws have been canceled by the court.
The referendum law, which passed in the previous Knesset and is now a Basic Law, requires a referendum on any treaty that entails giving up land to which Israeli law applies, including the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem but not the West Bank.
However, if more than 80 MKs support the treaty, it can be ratified without a referendum, and if fewer than 61 MKs back the treaty, it will be rejected without the nation voting on it.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed unequivocal support for the law.
“A major diplomatic decision cannot be made without the nation. If we reach that point, we need to go to the people.
That is the right, just, democratic thing, the only way to preserve peace among ourselves,” he said. “This is a historic decision, and we need to be proud that we are making it.”
“Nine years ago this week, the Knesset authorized the [Gaza] disengagement plan. MKs said it would bring security, peace, the world’s approval,” Economy Minister Naftali Bennett recounted. “People are shooting rockets at our citizens from the very place we left. This wouldn’t have happened if we had held a referendum.”
Bennett referred to an incident in which then-Likud MK Alex Goldfarb decided to support the Oslo Accords after being promised a deputy minister position, what is known as the “Mitsubishi Deal,” because he got a car out of it.
“Oslo passed on Shas’s back, also because of Meretz and the Arabs... and because of a Mitsubishi that killed more people than any other car in history.
No more ‘Mitsubishi deals.’ No more trampling democracy,” Bennett added.
“This isn’t meant to replace the Knesset or the need for it to ratify treaties. The Knesset’s status is preserved,” coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud Beytenu), who co-sponsored the bill, explained in the plenum.
“A referendum exists in most democracies, and even if they don’t use it often, they recognize its necessity.”
“I believe the entire Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel, and I will be very sad if the nation votes to divide the land, but at least then it will be a legitimate vote, because the people are the sovereign in a democracy,” MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud Beytenu) explained.
“In major decisions, we need to be united as a nation and a society. We saw in the past what happens when there is no broad agreement [on land concessions],” MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) said.
MK Amram Mitzna (Hatnua), however, expressed ambivalence about the concept of a referendum, saying it is an obstacle to the peace process.
“I don’t like this law; I think we managed fine without a referendum until now, even in difficult decisions,” Mitzna stated.
“If I thought it was proposed out of democratic reasons, I would be less disturbed by it, but MK Levin is proposing it to make any future peace treaty more difficult, complicated and maybe even impossible.
“We have no choice [but to concede land] because we cannot continue ruling another nation without giving them basic rights. The world won’t allow it,” he added.
The opposition continued to boycott plenum debates and votes Wednesday, as it did throughout this week, but did not hold an alternative plenum meeting, and as such did not give speeches on Basic Law: Referendum.