Knesset passes bill requiring referendum to cede land within Israel


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli voters must approve any surrender of sovereign Israeli territory under a bill passed by the Knesset.

The referendum measure approved Thursday becomes part of the country’s Basic Law, which makes it difficult to change or legislate around, and requires an absolute Knesset majority of 61 to be overturned. The Jewish Home party sponsored the bill, which was approved on its third reading by a vote of 68 to 0.

Under the referendum law, any government decision to cede land within Israel; eastern Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel in 1967; or the Golan Heights, annexed in 1981, would require the public’s approval via a referendum before it could be carried out, according to Haaretz. The law does not apply to withdrawals from the West Bank, which was never annexed. If more than 80 lawmakers support a treaty that gives up land, it can be ratified without a referendum.

The idea of land swaps in which Israel would trade land from within its pre-1967 territory in exchange for West Bank settlements has been proposed in previous Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Opposition parties boycotted the vote after the government coalition limited debate on the bill as well as two other controversial measures: the Governance Act, which was passed Tuesday and raises the election threshold to 3.25 percent from 2 percent, and the military draft bill, which was passed the following day and removes most exemptions for haredi Orthodox yeshiva students to serve in the military.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke in the Knesset plenum in advance of the vote.

“A decision on a diplomatic agreement must be acceptable to the public,” Netanyahu said, adding that a public vote “is the only thing that will preserve the domestic peace among us.”

The Knesset passed a referendum law in 2010, but it faced being overturned by the Supreme Court.

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