Israeli bill could threaten future peace deals

Israel`s Parl was expected to approve a bill that could sink future peace deals with Palestinians.

Jerusalem: Israel`s hard-line parliament was expected to approve a bill on Monday that could sink future peace deals with the Palestinians and Syria.

With Mideast peacemaking already at a standstill, the proposed legislation would make it much harder for the government to cede disputed east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights — captured territories that would be central to any future accord.

If it is passed, the new law would require 80 of 120 lawmakers to approve any withdrawal from those two areas. Without that super majority, the government would need to win approval in a binding national referendum.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s Cabinet supports the bill.

"There is no doubt that this is a dramatic piece of legislation for the people of Israel and the state of Israel," bill sponsor Yariv Levin of Netanyahu`s Likud Party said before the deliberations began. "The law determines that peace must be made between peoples and not just between leaders.

Palestinians demand sovereignty over east Jerusalem in any peace deal, while Syria insists on reasserting control over the Golan as its price for making peace.

If a peace deal is reached with either the Palestinians or Syria, the proposed legislation could make it much harder for Israel to relinquish control because now, at least, broad segments of the public oppose any withdrawal from these territories.

Israel seized both areas in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed them, and Netanyahu has given little indication that he is prepared to give up either territory.

East Jerusalem has deep significance for both the Jews and Palestinians as it is home to major Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites. The scenic Golan is a popular tourist destination and is considered a strategic asset because it overlooks northern Israel. It also has vital water resources.

The international community does not recognize Israel`s annexations of either territory. The referendum bill would not apply to the West Bank, also captured in 1967, because Israel has not annexed it.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Israel could not avoid giving up captured land if it wanted to make peace.

"Referendum or no referendum, if one of these days Israel wants to have peace with Arabs and with Palestinians, by now I think they know that this will not happen without their withdrawal from east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights," Erekat said.

Syria had no official comment.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down in late September, three weeks after they began — after Israel resisted Palestinian and US pressure to extend a moratorium on new construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Netanyahu has since agreed to a new, 90-day moratorium in the Palestinian territory. But he is having trouble working out a formula with Washington that would mollify hard-liners in his coalition who want east Jerusalem exempted from the moratorium.

Indirect Turkish-mediated peace talks with Syria broke down in late 2008.

Efforts to enact a law mandating a referendum on territorial concessions were first launched more than a decade ago, but were blocked by Cabinets fearing it would restrict their ability to pursue peace agreements.

In 2005, settlers demanded a referendum on a proposed pullout from the Gaza Strip. But then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon blocked the proposed plebiscite and withdrew from the Palestinian territory.

With many lawmakers in the current parliament opposed to territorial concessions and skeptical about peacemaking prospects, the debate on the bill promised to be emotionally charged.

Lawmaker Einat Wilf, a member of the governing coalition from the centrist Labor Party, said a referendum law would compromise Israeli democracy.

"A referendum law would strike a terrible, unjustified blow to Israel`s system of government," the Maariv newspaper quoted Wilf as saying. "If parliament ratifies a bill and a referendum overturns that decision, what does that say about the parliament`s standing as the pre-eminent political body?"

Bureau Report

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