Referendum Law Passes

Referendum bill passes in Knesset with a majority of 65 MKs. Kadima leader Tzipi Livni earlier made a U-turn on the bill.

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu and Elad Benari , | updated: 11:55 PM

The Knesset plenum.
The Knesset plenum.

The Knesset passed on Monday evening the bill that would require a referendum before any land officially under Israeli sovereignty is surrendered, specifically the Golan Heights and Jerusalejm.  65 MKs voted in favor of the bill while 33 opposed it.

Labor ministers Ehud Barak, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Isaac Herzog, and Avishay Braverman did not participate in the vote. However, two other members of the Labor Party, Minister Shalom Simchon and Deputy Minister Matan Vilnai were present and voted in favor of the referendum.

Prior to the vote, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office rejected the idea that the referendum law would hurt the chances for peace negotiations between Israel and its neighbors.

"A referendum prevents an irresponsible agreement and on the other hand makes it possible to achieve a strong public backing for an agreement that will respond to Israel's national interests," said Netanyahu.

A recently-passed law already required an absolute majority of 61 Knesset Members before any of the Golan could be handed over to Syria, which has been demanding the entire Golan Heights.  A referendum would place a major obstacle if any government were able to win a majority in the Knesset for giving up the area and its rich water resources.

The referendum bill also covers United Jerusalem and the rest of Israel except for Judea and Samaria which officially are under military control.

Earlier on Monday Kadima leader Tzipi Livni made a U-turn on the bill the party once backed. The Kadima leader said her opposition to the Golan referendum bill is based on a principle that the Knesset, and not the general public, should have the final say on legislature. However, despite Kadima's decision to oppose the referendum bill, two of its members, MKs Otniel Schneller and Eli Aflalo, voted in favor of the referendum.

Consistent with her previous attacks on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Livni said that he is a ”weak prime minister. This has nothing to do with left or right, but with decision-making in this democracy. There is one referendum, and that's general elections, and the prime minister must say the same thing before and after the elections."

Her move to the left is surprising because Kadima formerly had encouraged the bill, which would create a major obstacle to any future effort to surrender any part of the Golan. However, her opposition is consistent with an almost automatic disagreement with every policy promoted by the prime minister and the Likud coalition.

MK Livni lost a bitter contest to form the current coalition two years ago. She has claimed she should be heading the government because her party won one more seat than the Likud in the winter 2009 elections. However, she was not able to win over Yisrael Beiteinu, headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and Shas, leaving her with minority support that did not enable her to form a coalition.