Daily Israel Report

Bennett: Referendum Law or No Budget

Bayit Yehudi supports Netanayhu initiative to bring any “peace deal” to a plebiscite. Livni, Lieberman unite in opposition
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 7/22/2013, 11:59 AM

Naftali Bennett
Naftali Bennett
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The chairman of the Bayit Yehudi party, Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, is expected to announce Monday in the faction's weekly session that the party will demand that a Referendum Law be passed, as a precondition for supporting the national budget in the Knesset. The law will mean that any political agreement which involves the surrender of Israeli territory will need to be brought before the electorate in a direct referendum.

“No more 'Mitsubishi agreements,'” Bennett proclaimed on his Facebook page. He was referring to the Oslo Accords, which were made possible by the promise of a political position involving a Mitsubishi official car to a corrupt MK in exchange for his support.

"Let's not be naïve,” he explained. “An agreement, if one is bought, will be a historical crossroad in the history of Zionism, no less. It will have implications for what our security and that of our grandchildren will look like; for the nation's unity on the face of the difficult challenges that will follow such an agreement; for the ideological and value-related DNA of the state of Israel. And above all – our Land was given to us thousands of years ago. It is unacceptable that a political maneuver at a specific point in time will decide its fate.

“Only the nation can decide something like this.”

Prime Minister pledges referendum

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu vowed Sunday to bring any agreement he reaches with the Palestinian Authority (PA) to a national referendum.

“I believe this is necessary,” he said. “I do not think decision like these can be reached – if an agreement is, indeed, reached – through some kind of coalition-related maneuver. Rather, this thing needs to be brought to the nation, for it to decide.”

A Referendum Law mandating plebiscite approval for any ceding of national land already passed in the previous Knesset, but it does not currently apply to Judea and Samaria, which were never officially annexed after their liberation in 1967, and therefore fall outside the current law's parameters.

Likud MKs Ofir Akunis and Yariv Levin initiated further legislation turning that law into one of Israel's few "Basic Laws", and Netanyahu would like to see the process of legislation sped up so that the new law can pass before the Knesset goes into its summer recess, next week.

However, opposition to the law has been leveled from all sides of the political spectrum.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of the left-wing Hatnua party, has said that she will oppose the bill, even though it appears in the coalition agreements she signed. Livni said in April that the Referedum Law is coated by “a veneer of cuteness and hypocrisy”.

Livni noted that while the Referendum Law allows the public to disqualify a Knesset decision to cede land, it does not do the opposite. That is, it does not enable the public to say that it supports ceding land, if the Knesset votes against such a deal. She insisted that the only referendum applicable for decisions such as these is the national election.

One the other side of the political spectrum, Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu faction that merged with Likud in the latest elections, also opposes the referendum.

"Referendums are a way for decision makers to avoid responsibility,” he explained in April. Referendums should either be held for all major decisions, as in Switzerland, he said, or they should not be used at all.

Labor head MK Shelly Yachimovich also opposes the Referendum Law, insisting that “There is not an ounce of democracy behind the idea of holding a selective referendum,” she explained, “only an attempt to torpedo in advance” any peace deal.

MK Zehava Galon of the far-left Meretz party, called the idea of a plebiscite to approve the ceding of land "cowardly," and added that “if a government has the authority to make war, it can certainly approve a peace agreement and make peace.” 

The Israeli public, and especially the nationalist sector, view government-negotiated peace deals with great suspicion, ever since the Oslo Accords were approved in the Knesset in 1993 by a razor-thin majority, as a result of corrupt political wheeling and dealing by the Labor government that involved the "Mitsubishi" scandal mentioned by Bennett, among other political bribes to certain Knesset members.

When Ariel Sharon came up with the Disengagement Plan in 2003, he brought it to an internal Likud referendum – and then split Likud and formed a new party when the idea was voted down in that referendum.

At a meeting of the Bayit Yehudi faction Monday, Bennett said that the while negotiations were inevitable, major withdrawals from Judea and Samaria were not. “We cannot escape the likelihood that negotiations will take place, but we will be following them closely,” he said. “We oppose the establishment of a terrorist state that will threaten Israel, and we oppose the handing over of Israeli land to our enemies, period.”

Earlier, Bennett expressed strong support for the idea of a referendum on any proposed deal with the PA, in the face of opposition to the idea by various MKs, notable Tzippy Livni and Avigdor Lieberman. Addressing them, Bennett said that a referendum was the only way to avoid a dangerous split in the nation between supporters and opponents of a deal. “You who oppose the referendum say that 'the people' are with you,” and would agree to withdrawals. “If so, I ask you – what are you afraid of? Why not have a referendum?”