Israeli cabinet approves bill to put any peace treaty with Palestinians to referendum

The Israeli cabinet has backed a bill that requires any peace deal with the Palestinians to be put to a referendum.

"Any agreement which may be reached in negotiations will be put to a referendum," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office as quoted by AFP. "It is important that on such historic decisions every citizen should vote directly on an issue deciding the country's future."

The government regards approval of the new bill dubbed ‘Basic Law: Referendum’ as "urgent and important," and it will be asking the parliament to speed up putting it into law, a cabinet briefing paper also said.

‘Basic Law: Referendum’ is expected to be brought to the Knesset for a first reading on Wednesday, according to the Jerusalem Post. Netanyahu hopes to bring it through the second and third readings on the same day, so that to have it as a law already next week, a senior government source told the daily.

The referendum bill is seen as a goodwill gesture to right-wing members of the government who might oppose concessions Israel could have to make within the peace process negotiations - including giving up land. 

This bill will only deal with sovereign land, so the government would not have to hold a referendum on giving parts of Judea and Samaria away to the Palestinians – if that should take place. But if any agreements in the peace deal included a land swap in parts of Jerusalem it would be put to a popular vote.

Netanyahu’s quick action on the bill comes just three days after Trade Minister Naftali Bennett threatened that his Bayit Yehudi party might not support the government’s budget, which will be brought to a vote on Monday if no progress is made on the referendum bill.

Netanyahu has said that he is firmly supportive of the idea of a referendum.

Peace with our neighbors requires peace among ourselves, and the way to ensure this is through a referendum,” the PM stated.

But not all government ministers are behind the idea of a popular vote. Justice minister Tzipi Livni reiterated her commitment to vote against such legislation, with the agreement of most of her party. While Avigor Liberman, leader of the Yisrael Beytenu party, opposes a referendum but has said that he would support it if it became government policy. 

The cabinet has also approved the PM's proposal to authorize the liberation of 104 Palestinian prisoners ahead of expected peace talks with the Palestine Authority in the US. Now the ministers are expected to appoint a ministerial committee to keep an eye on negotiations with the Palestinians.