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Left Opposes National Referendum on Territorial Concessions

Leftist MKs open fire on National Referendum Bill being voted on this week, which would let public vote on withdrawals.
By Ari Yashar
First Publish: 3/10/2014, 12:19 PM

MK Zehava Galon
MK Zehava Galon
Flash 90

The Israeli left has voiced sharp opposition for the National Referendum Bill, which is expected to be passed this week on Wednesday or Thursday. The bill would turn the existing Referendum Law into a Basic Law, reducing dangers of Supreme Court intervention.

If passed, the bill would have the Israeli public vote on land withdrawals which were approved by an absolute majority of at least 61 MKs in the Knesset. Only land under Israeli sovereignty is included in the bill, meaning Judea and Samaria currently are not part of its scope. However, land-swaps of "settlement blocs" for Israeli-Arab towns would require the vote.

MK Zehava Galon, chairperson of the far-left Meretz party, spoke to IDF Radio (Galei Tzahal) on Sunday, and said supporters of the bill are "only those who want to restrain the ('peace') process, to restrain the government and to make it difficult for an agreement with the Palestinians to be reached."

The bill comes during a week in which two other controversial laws will be debated in Knesset. These include the Governance Bill, proposing the significant raise of the voting threshold and making entry to the Knesset harder for small parties, as well as the Enlistment Bill, which would have hareidi yeshiva students become eligible for the draft for the first time in Israel’s history.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni also joined opponents of the referendum bill. According to Channel 2, Livni refused to sign an agreement of coalition MKs to support the three bills, an agreement initiated by Coalition chairman MK Yariv Levin (Likud).

'Attempt to trip up peace agreement'

Joining onto the bandwagon of criticism for the law allowing Israelis to vote on their country's future, MK Dov Hanin of the communist Hadash party claimed on Facebook that "none of the three big laws the government is trying to pass in a lightning process this week has a majority in the Knesset."

Hanin attacked Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, adding "Liberman is pressing everyone to support the sharp raise in the threshhold to throw the Arabs out of Israeli politics and to create high walls around the Knesset. Bennett is pressing everyone to pass the National Referendum Bill allowing him to trip up any peace agreement."

Refering to Finance Minister Yair Lapid's push for hareidi IDF enlistment, Hanin added "and Lapid? Lapid is tripping up everyone to pass a bluff."

Leftist activists have concurrently begun a campaign on the internet and in WhatsApp groups attacking the referendum bill. One accusation of the internet campaign charged "what's the difference between (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and Bennet? Under Putin the Ukrainians join in a national referendum."

The charge is particularly confusing given that in Ukraine, Russia recently occupied the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula, and under the pressure of their military presence the local Crimean government voted to join Russia. The Ukrainian government and wider public opposed the vote, has voiced its continued opposition, and warns of a larger Russian attempt to conquer the country.

Meanwhile criticism for the bill has not come only from the left. Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon warned backed in January that the idea allows the government to keep discussing dangerous withdrawals and peace agreements, while maintaining the coalition.

Instead, Danon called for new elections, saying "a process as important as the peace deal was not brought up before the elections and didn't appear on party platforms, and therefore holding new elections to let the public make its voice and trust known, in accordance with party platforms, is totally justified."

Gil Ronen contributed to this report.