The Knesset on Wednesday afternoon adopted a 'continuity law' allowing the Israeli parliament to continue legislative discussions on a bill obligating referendum on withdrawals from the Golan Heights or east Jerusalem.
Sixty-eight Knesset members voted in favor of the motion, including Labor Chairman Ehud Barak and Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer who have expressed their objection to it. Twenty-two MKs voted against the bill and one lawmaker abstained.
Barak's associates explained that "the defense minister voted in accordance with the government and prime minister's stand. Barak has a responsibility to vote with the government as a member of the cabinet, although he is against a referendum.
Minister Ben-Eliezer said, "I have always been in favor of a referendum. We thought it wasn't right at this time, but the moment we decided on freedom of vote, I voted in favor of the motion."
On Tuesday, the Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs rejected the appeal submitted by Minister Dan Meridor against the referendum bill by a majority of five to two.
Minister Meridor also voted in favor of the motion, and the bill is now expected to be brought to the Knesset plenum for a second and third reading.
Earlier Wednesday, MK Yariv Levin (Likud), chairman of Joint Committee for Discussion on the Referendum Bill, called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on to force all Labor Party Knesset members to vote in favor of a referendum bill.
"The Labor Party is being hypocritical, when last month it required all cabinet ministers to vote against the bill because it was appealed by Minister (Dan) Meridor. Now that the government decided to adopt the bill, Labor must be required to support it as well," said Levin.
"If the Labor ministers are not committed to the government and coalition's decisions, they should not expect the Likud's Knesset members' support in matters important to them.
Knesset plenum, Wednesday (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Barak expressed two reasons for his objection to the law: "First, It imposes unnecessary constraints on the prime minister when negotiating with Syria, and creates a wrong impression in the world that Israel is a peace refuser. The second reason is that a referendum is a complicated legislative matter which somewhat contradicts the structure of the parliamentary regime."
The bill proposes that should the government and the Knesset pass a decision to withdraw from territory under full Israeli sovereignty, such as the Golan Heights or east Jerusalem, that the issue be brought to a national referendum within 180 days of being passed by the Knesset. Only a vote of 80 members of Knesset or more will nullify the need for a referendum.
MK Levin said after the vote the he plans to work "to approve a balanced wording which will gain wide support in the Knesset and the entire public. I am convinced that the people's desire to keep the Golan will be expressed in an appropriate manner in a referendum, if and when we reach an arrangement with Syria."
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) voted against the bill, saying she believes "a government is elected for the purpose of decision making – not for the purpose of placing these decisions back in the hands of the public."
The bill has also angered Arab Knesset members. MK Talab El-Sana (United Arab List-Ta'al) said that "the prime minister is sacrificing peace and giving in to the right. The message the government is sending is that Israel is not interested in peace and sanctifies the occupation, leading the region into a dangerous and unnecessary war."
Attila Somfalvi and Sharon Roffe-Ofir contributed to this report