Israel endorses bill for referendum on territorial concessions

The Israeli government has endorsed a bill requiring a national referendum prior to any territorial concessions.

Updated: Oct 11, 2010, 22:57 PM IST

Jerusalem: In a decision that could
potentially hamper the Middle East peace process, the Israeli
government has endorsed a bill requiring a national referendum
prior to any territorial concessions on occupied areas like
Golan Heights and east Jerusalem.

The bill outlines how the referendum would be carried
out and how the votes will be tallied, and does not actually
address the actual requirement of holding a referendum,
Justice Ministry sources here said.

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved the
draft with seven votes in favour to three against.

It must still pass three readings in the Knesset but
political analysts here believe that with the government`s
support, its passage into law was almost certain.

The legislation requiring a referendum has already
been passed, but couldn`t have been implemented without the
procedural legislation.

The committee, however, also decided that a special
majority of 80 Knesset members could potentially override the
referendum requirement, and approve a territorial withdrawal
without referendum.

The decision coming a day after the Israeli cabinet
approved a loyalty oath measure which would make it mandatory
for every non-Jewish aspirant of an Israeli citizenship to
swear allegiance to the "Jewish and democratic state" is being
seen as an attempt by prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to
strengthen his nationalist credentials.

Left of the centre Labour party Chairman and Defence
Minister, Ehud Barak, condemned the move saying that the
development puts into question the government`s desire, and
ability to lead the peace process.

"Israel`s government, with Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu at its helm, vowed to advance the peace process and
therefore must do everything within its power to remove the
obstacle placed today on the path to peace with this needless
bill," Barak said.

Lawmaker Nachman Shai of centrist Kadima party called
the referendum law "a fatal blow to parliamentary democracy".

"The cabinet is afraid of peace. In fact it`s afraid
of its own shadow. It is hiding behind the public instead of
leading the public. The referendum law is a fatal blow to
parliamentary democracy," Shai stressed.

The Knesset committee in July approved the bill
requiring a referendum before withdrawing from the Golan
Heights, which could be handed over to the Syrians under a
future peace agreement.

The referendum law, that will have a bearing on the
issue of Golan Heights and east Jerusalem, is being seen as a
measure aimed at hindering territorial withdrawals, making it
more difficult for the government to give up land concessions
under future peace agreements.

PTI