The Knesset passed on Wednesday a new constitutional basic law requiring a national referendum on concessions of any sovereign land.
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.
The legislation, proposed by MKs Yariv Levin (Likud-Yisrael Beitenu), Ayelet Shaked (HaBayit HaYehudi) and Orit Strock (HaBayit Hayehudi) is nearly identical to a 2010 law that requires a public referendum for land-for-peace deals. But the earlier law faces a High Court of Justice petition asking the court to strike it down on the grounds that it unconstitutionally limits the powers of the Knesset. The new law anchors the previous law in a “basic law,” which has a special constitutional status, creating a constitutional basis for stripping the Knesset of the power to cede land.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summed up the debate on the Referendum Law by stating that ”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; and this, in my opinion, is no less important that the external peace.”
”The resolution we are reaching here today is historic and we should be proud that this coalition is passing it. Now we will decide to give the people the ability to decide,” Netanyahu told the plenum.
Sixty-eight MKs voted in favor of the Referendum Bill in its second and third readings. None opposed. The vote was boycotted by the opposition parties, who were also absent from this week`s votes on the governance bills and the haredi enlistment bill, all of which were approved by the Knesset.
Prior to the vote, coalition chairman Levin said the law will unite the nation, adding that it expresses the need to guarantee that ”a critical and irreversible decision on ceding parts of the homeland that are under the state`s sovereignty will not be reached through deals.”
”I believe wholeheartedly in our comprehensive right to all of the Land of Israel, and I am convinced that there will not be a government or Knesset in Israel that will require holding such a referendum,” he said, while calling on his fellow lawmakers to support the bill so that the ”people`s decision, whatever it may be, will be reached in a way that will significantly decrease the scope of the rift which may occur between us should such a decision be required.”
Minister Naftali Bennett of HaBayit HaYehudi told the plenum that had the Referendum Law been in place when Israel`s government decided to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza, ”the plan may not have been implemented and the residents of the south would not have to sit in shelters today.”
Bennett referred to an incident in which former 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` 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. The people will decide,” Bennett added.
MK Amram Mitzna (Hatenua) said: ”I don`t like this law; I think we managed fine without a referendum until now, even in difficult decisions. 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. However, Mitzna said he would vote in favor of the legislation. ”I do not fear a referendum, because when an agreement will be presented, it will be approved in a referendum,” he stated.