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Thursday, December 10, 2009

What Israel's 'referendum law' would do

Haaretz's Aluf Benn, who is not very pleased about it, explains what the 'referendum law,' which was advanced in the Knesset on Wednesday night, would do.
The "Referendum Law" that the Knesset voted to advance Wednesday would restrict the government's freedom of action in negotiations with the Palestinians, Syria and even Lebanon by making it harder to cede East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights or even Shaba Farms, whether unilaterally or by agreement.

The bill creates an onerous ratification procedure for any agreement that involves ceding sovereign Israeli territory: approval by the cabinet, by an absolute majority of 61 MKs and finally by a referendum in which voters would be asked whether they are for or against the agreement. The referendum itself would be decided by a simple majority. Only if the Knesset approved an agreement by a majority of 80 MKs - as it did the treaty with Jordan, for instance - would the referendum requirement be waived.

The bill would also eliminate the "constitutional lacuna" that currently enables unilateral withdrawals from sovereign Israeli territory. Currently, a simple majority of the Knesset could reverse the annexation of all or part of the Golan, and a 61-MK majority would be enough to alter Jerusalem's municipal boundaries. But the bill would require a referendum on any cession of territory to which Israeli law has been applied, even a unilateral one.

Thus Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who once again called Wednesday for renewed talks with the Palestinians, is binding himself with constitutional chains. In Netanyahu's view, it is important that diplomatic agreements be supported by a majority of the public, and not just the coalition's majority in the Knesset. But he is also signaling the Syrians, the Palestinians and the international community that he will have trouble passing any significant concessions - and trying to strengthen his hand in the negotiations. In addition, he is thereby pressing his negotiating partners to close a deal quickly, before the bill becomes law.
These requirements don't seem onerous at all. The treaties with both Egypt and Jordan would have passed. The Oslo 2 agreements with the 'Palestinians' (which passed 61-59) would have required a referendum, except that they did not cede territory in the Golan (pictured) or Jerusalem.

The decision to cede territory to enemies is an existential decision. It ought to be decided on by overwhelming majorities of both the people and their elected representatives. If an agreement cannot jump that hurdle, we should not be entering into it.


At 10:54 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

The current laws on ceding sovereign territory should be enforced. Good luck getting the Israeli political elite to do it and the referendum bill is still a long ways from becoming law.


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