Knesset Committee Passes Referendum Bill

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JERUSALEM, Israel - In a 7-2 vote, the government's Ministerial Committee on Legislation passed a bill on Monday requiring a national referendum on any proposal to cede land annexed to Israel.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak issued a statement later in the day criticizing the legislation.

"The Israeli public wants a political process that focuses on security issues and an end to the conflict," the statement read.

"The Ministerial Committee's decision fundamentally harms the possibility to realize this objective," the defense minister contended.

The bill had passed its first reading in the Knesset three years ago, but today's vote by the ministerial committee pretty much ensures it will pass its second and third readings within the next several weeks.

If passed, the law would require a national referendum within 180 days after the Knesset voted to cede any area that has been annexed to the state and has been under Israeli law, such as the Golan Heights or Jerusalem.

The Central Elections Committee will be responsible for running the referendum, which would be handled similarly to national elections.

A sister bill to be submitted this week by Likud MK Ofer Akunis will require a national referendum on any peace deal with the Palestinian Authority.

Akunis will ask the committee to expedite his bill, The Jerusalem Post reported.

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