Israeli lawmakers approved legislation requiring a national referendum on any peace agreement that calls for withdrawal from the Golan Heights or east Jerusalem and doesn’t win a two-thirds majority in parliament.
The legislation was passed yesterday by a 65-to-33 vote after seven hours of debate at the Knesset in Jerusalem.
The law, approved as the U.S. is pressing Israeli and Palestinian leaders to resume direct peace talks, was sponsored by members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. Opponents of Israeli territorial compromise have been pushing for years for a referendum that would make a withdrawal more difficult.
“This bill expresses the need to ensure that a fateful and irreversible response to the question of withdrawal from parts of the homeland that have come to be under the state’s sovereignty won’t be made through unrelated parliamentary trade- offs,” the measure’s sponsor, Yariv Levin, said during the debate.
The measure applies to the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem, which were annexed by Israel, and not to the West Bank.
‘Internal Israeli Issue’
Asked about the legislation at a briefing yesterday, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley described it as “an internal Israeli issue” and said “the Israeli government is in the best position to address inquiries.”
U.S. President Barack Obama is trying to renew direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and has expressed hope that negotiations may also take place with Syria. The Arab League in 2002 proposed a regional agreement in which all its members would make peace with Israel in exchange for a withdrawal from all of east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights.
Palestinians have demanded that Netanyahu impose a construction freeze in the West Bank before stalled negotiations can be renewed, saying the 10-month moratorium that expired in September was insufficient.
The Palestinian Authority seeks to establish an independent state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with east Jerusalem as its capital. Syria wants to reincorporate the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, into its territory.
“With the passage of this bill, the Israeli leadership, yet again, is making a mockery of international law, which is not subject to the whims of Israeli public opinion,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said in a statement.
Two years ago, Israel and Syria held Turkish-mediated indirect negotiations that broke down after Israel began a 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip in December 2008. They were the first such talks since 2000.
About 500,000 Jews have moved to the West Bank and east Jerusalem since Israel took over the areas in the 1967 conflict. The United Nations says the settlements are illegal, and the International Committee of the Red Cross says they violate the Fourth Geneva Convention governing actions in occupied territory. Obama has said the settlements aren’t legitimate.
Israel says settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem aren’t covered by the convention because the territory wasn’t recognized as belonging to anyone before the 1967 war and therefore shouldn’t be considered occupied.