Knesset Says Israelis Will Decide on Peace

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- As Israeli and Palestinian negotiators talk about the details of a peace agreement, Israel's parliament decided that Israeli citizens -- and not the government -- will have the last word in approving any peace deal.

The Referendum Bill passed its first reading early Thursday morning by a vote of 66-45, following an evening of impassioned discussion.

The bill's passage means that any peace agreement Israel reaches with the Palestinian Authority will be put to a national referendum, allowing every Israeli citizen to vote on whether to accept or reject it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fully supports the referendum, believing that the Israeli people themselves must approve a peace agreement before it's signed and accepted.

An especially poignant moment took place Wednesday evening when Netanyahu took to the podium to respond to a remark by an Israeli Arab member of Knesset.

Before taking his seat, MK Jamal Zahalke (Balad) said, "We [the Arabs] were here before you and we will be here after you."

Netanyahu raised his hand for permission to approach the podium. There, speaking directly to Zahalke, he said, "The first part isn't true and the second won't be," bringing many MKs to their feet in resounding applause.

That exchange in many ways captures the crux of the elusive peace process.

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