JERUSALEM - Knesset members have overwhelmingly rejected the pullout referendum proposal by a 72-39 margin Monday.
Senior Likud Ministers Benjamin Netanyahu, Limor Livnat, Tzachi Hanegbi, Danny Naveh, Silvan Shalom, and Yisrael Katz voted in favor of the proposal, but were unable to avert the crushing defeat. Three Knesset members chose to abstain in the vote.
Following Monday’s vote, six months must elapse before the bill can be brought before the Knesset again. As a result, the referendum question has essentially been removed from the national agenda.
Minister Ehud Olmert said he hopes the vote conveys a message to the People of Israel, the Palestinians, and the entire world.
“Israel is moving toward a historic plan,” he said. “Let’s hope the Palestinians cooperate.”
Meanwhile, Likud “rebel” Michael Ratzon blamed Shas for the proposal’s defeat.
“Shas fooled us, hampered the vote, and never intended to support (the bill,)” he said. “Everything was intended to deepen disagreements within the Likud.”
Most Shas members voted against the bill, but some of them were absent during the vote.
Earlier, minister Meir Sheetrit said Shas Spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef instructed party members to vote against the proposal because he is a “wise man.”
Stormy Knesset session
The vote was preceded by a stormy Knesset debate that saw several parliamentarians being ejected from the session.
In his speech, Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres said that in contradiction of right-wing ideology, ties with Egypt are warming and Israel faces no military threat in the south or the north.
“You have no path to propose, just talk, just threats, just flattery,” he said.
Peres also said Likud “rebel” Uzi Landau’s support for a pullout referendum is merely part of his search for “tricks to stop the disengagement.”
Right-wing Knesset members responded to Peres in kind, branding him a member of the “Oslo underground,” in reference to the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians that have been slammed by right-wing politicians in the past.
At one point, Deputy Knesset Speaker Colette Avital called for the removal of Likud Knesset Members Ayoob Kara and Michael Ratzon from the session because of repeated disturbances.
Settlers wanted bill withdrawn
Earlier, Settler leaders turned to Knesset Constitution Committee Chairman Michael Eitan and asked that he withdraw the pullout referendum proposal in light of its expected defeat.
The settlers say they want to prevent the expected “moral defeat” and prefer to postpone the vote to a later time in the hopes of securing a majority.
However, Eitan refused to withdraw the proposal.
“It’s over, we need to decide,” he said. “You can’t keep the entire nation in suspense. I do not intend to withdraw the bill.”
Meeting fails to convince rabbi
Earlier Monday, Shas
spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
appeared poised to instruct the party’s Knesset members to vote against a pullout referendum.
A meeting between Likud “rebels” Uzi Landau and Yuli Edelstein failed to convince the rabbi to change his traditional stance against national referendums.
Yosef told Landau and Edelstein the referendum bill may have had a chance to pass had they worked harder, but added that he realizes at this time the proposal would not be endorsed by a Knesset majority.
Landau told the rabbi there was a “slim chance” the bill would pass, but Yosef promptly dismissed his comments.
“What’s with you? I see there is no majority,” he said.
Shas blames Likud
Landau and Edelstein, who arrived at Yosef’s house around 9 a.m. Monday morning in a last-ditch effort to elicit his support for the referendum, received a warm welcome.
“The rabbi paid close attention to the matter,” Landau said after the meeting. “We explained to the rabbi that his stance is decisive and that he has the ability to influence Likud members.”
Shas, however, was interested in delaying the decision to the last minute, in order to emphasize that the referendum proposal hinged on Likud members’ vote on the question.
“If the Likud was more united it would have been easier,” Rabbi Yosef said. Throughout the meeting with the two Likud rebels, the rabbi stressed that the two were unable to sway the entire Likud to support a referendum, thus dooming the proposal to failure.