Daily Israel Report

Referendum Hopes Still Not Dashed

The Knesset Law Committee is scheduled to vote on a preliminary version of the Disengagement Referendum Bill this coming March 21. So announced Committee Chairman MK Michael Eitan.
First Publish: 3/10/2005, 1:03 PM / Last Update: 3/10/2005, 10:33 AM

Opponents of the disengagement plan, which calls for the demolition of 25 Jewish communities in Gaza and Shomron this summer and the expulsion of 8,500 Jews from their homes, are putting their political hopes on a plebiscite. They maintain that such a vote is necessary for two reasons: 1) because the disengagement decisions were made in opposition to the will of the voters as expressed in the national election of two years ago, and 2) because it would help prevent civil strife - as the issue will be decided at the ballot box, instead of with violence at public intersections, along the roads to Gush Katif and Shomron, and at the homes of those slated for expulsion.

At present, the chances of holding a referendum do not appear good. The main obstacle is Prime Minister Sharon, who has consistently objected to holding a nationwide vote on the issue. He originally objected to holding one in the Likud as well, but finally gave in – and when the results of the May 2004 vote showed that the Likud membership had voted by a 60-40 margin against the evacuation/expulsion, he ignored the results and went ahead with his plan.

Because of Sharon's objections, a significant number of Likud MKs object as well – although the Likud Central Committee voted overwhelmingly last week in favor of a referendum. However, even if all 40 Likud MKs vote in favor of a referendum, this will still not provide the margin of victory, as most of the Knesset opposes it. Only the 11 MKs of Shas are still not totally decided, but so far, the party's spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef objects to holding a plebiscite. He apparently fears that a similar tool could be used in other areas such as army deferrals for yeshiva students.

Referendum supporters continue to try to persuade Rabbi Yosef that a previous understanding reached with Law Committee Chairman MK Eitan should allay his fears. The understanding stipulates that referenda will be held in Israel only on territorial issues, and not on social-religious matters.

Even before the Knesset vote, however, the referendum bill must pass another hurdle: a law committee vote this coming March 21. If the bill fails to pass the Committee, it will not even reach the Knesset. Shas MK Nissim Ze'ev (pictured above) said that even though he will follow Rabbi Yosef's ruling in the Knesset vote, he is likely to vote for a referendum in the committee. He explained that Rabbi Yosef feels that the issue must be decided in the Knesset, and that his aye vote will help facilitate this.

If just one more Law Committee member votes in favor, the bill will pass. The most likely candidate is MK Avraham Ravitz of United Torah Judaism, but his vote is still not certain.

If the vote passes both the Committee and the first Knesset reading, it must be returned to the Law Committee for additional review, and then once again to the Knesset for its final vote.

Committee Chairman Mickey Eitan (Likud), who supports the disengagement yet is also promoting the referendum, says that a referendum need not delay the implementation of the disengagement, assuming the results are in favor.