Referendum Bill Passes First Reading in Knesset
The Knesset approved on Wednesday night the first reading of the bill that will require the approval by the entire citizenry of Israel before any agreement with the Palestinian Authority can be authorized.
66 MKs voted in favor of the bill and 45 voted against it. There were no abstentions.
Passage of the bill, which was okayed by the Cabinet on Sunday, means the government cannot approve any territorial compromise or “land swap” with the PA without the deal first going to a nationwide referendum, though it only applies to land concessions in territories where Israeli sovereignty applies, therefore it does not apply to Judea and Samaria which were not annexed by Israel.
The bill still needs to pass its second and third readings.
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has indicated that, just like Israel, he too will hold a general referendum among his population over any final status agreement that might be reached with Israel before signing the dotted line.
As is usual in the Knesset, the referendum bill did not pass before a heated debate, during which members of the coalition and the opposition attacked one another.
Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett criticized the opposition, particularly Shas and the Labor party.
“I hear [Shas chairman] Aryeh Deri preaching to me,” Bennett charged, and, in a reference to Shas’s support for the Oslo Accords, added, “The country was divided thanks to you. I could not believe that a party that relies on the Torah divides the country so do not lecture me.”
Bennett also had harsh words for Labor MK Hilik Bar, who hosted PA representatives earlier in the day and allowed them to fly the PA flag in the Israeli parliament.
“Tell me, have you gone crazy? A Palestinian flag in the Knesset? Did you fall on your head? Where’s the national pride? It’s a good thing the founders of Zionism weren’t defeatists like you,” he told Bar.
In a separate incident, Arab MK Jamal Zahalka verbally attacked Likud Minister Yuval Steinitz, calling him “an enemy of peace” and adding, “We were here before you and we will be here after you.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded to Zahalka, saying, "I heard Zahalka’s statement. The first part is not true, and the second part will not happen.” Netanyahu then received a round of applause.
With the passing of the Referendum Bill and the earlier passing of the "Governance Bill", the Knesset concluded its summer session and is now officially on break until after the Tishrei holidays.