Israeli Knesset Passes Referendum Law

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JERUSALEM, Israel - The Golan Heights and Jerusalem may be safe from a future land-for-peace deal, thanks to a new law passed by the Knesset during a late session on Monday evening.

Despite some opposition, the National Referendum Law, sponsored in this Knesset by House Committee chairman MK Yariv Levin (Likud), passed its final reading by a vote of 65 to 33.

The bill requires a two-thirds majority vote by the Knesset or alternatively a national referendum before any land that has been annexed to Israel - such as the Golan Heights or Jerusalem neighborhoods - can be ceded.

The law does not apply to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria - the West Bank - in the disputed territories, most often called the occupied territories. 

Proponents of the measure believe a decision to cede land under Israeli sovereignty must be supported by the majority of the people, either through a parliamentary vote or by a national referendum.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded the bill's passage, saying it "answers Israel's national interests and security needs."

"A law like this will prevent irresponsible accords in the future, and on the other hand, will allow governments to pass with strong public support any agreement that will answer Israel's national interests," the prime minister said.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) and Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Labor) both worked to defeat the legislation. 

Despite the fact that the Kadima party sponsored the same legislation in the previous government, Livni said the law "binds the ability of leaders to make decisions by expecting the people to make decisions they don't have the tools to make."

"The public cannot be expected to understand [such decisions] in full," she said.

"These kinds of decisions must be made by a leadership that understands the magnitude of the problems and is exposed to all aspects," Livni said, calling Netanyahu a "weak prime minister who finds it comfortable to be constrained."

Barak wavered between supporting and opposing the legislation, claiming it would harm efforts to negotiate peace with Syria.

"The bill raises questions about the government's desire and ability to lead the peace process," Barak said in a Defense Ministry statement.

"The government pledged to advance the peace process and this unnecessary bill serves as an obstacle to this process," Barak said.

Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat claimed the bill "makes a mockery of international law."

Arab Israeli MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) said Israel's parliament "has no right to decide the future of Jerusalem or the Golan Heights" because neither are Israel's "internal affair."

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The Jerusalem Post contributed to this report

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