The cabinet approved on Sunday a new Basic Law requiring a referendum on peace agreements that affect sovereign land. Later the ministers were expected to vote on the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ahead of the renewal of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Basic Law: Referendum is expected to be brought to the Knesset for a first reading on Wednesday. Because the bill only relates sovereign land, the government will not have to hold a referendum to sign a treaty giving parts of West Bank to the Palestinians. However, if a peace deal includes land swaps or parts of Jerusalem, it would require a popular vote.
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"It is important that in such fateful decisions every citizen will vote directly on an issue that determines the State's future," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet ahead of the vote.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said after the vote: "Today the government of Israel chose unity. The Land of Israel belongs to the grandfather of our grandfather and to the grandson of our grandson, and no one can relinquish our right to it.
"Such a fateful decision (withdrawing from sovereign land) must not be reached in a political maneuver. Any decision to transfer areas of the (Land of Israel) must be made by the public," he said.
The Palestinians insist on the release of Israeli-Arabs as a precondition for the renewal of negotiations. A Palestinian state official told Ynet that "the understandings on this matter are extremely clear."
Video courtesy of jn1.tv
In efforts to achieve a compromise that would also allow the undecided ministers to support Netanyahu's proposal, Minister Silvan Shalom presented an outline by which the votes for the release of Palestinian prisoners and Arab-Israeli prisoners will be done separately. The proposal, which was sent to the ministers late Saturday night, indeed did not include Arab-Israeli prisoners, but only a total number of prisoners to be released.
During the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said "there is a very heavy price, but not entering the (peace) process will also exact a price. Entering the process will advance Israel's strategic interests. Any provocation on the part of the Palestinians will stop the release (of prisoners)." Shin Bet Director Yoram Cohen briefed the ministers on the security-related aspects of the decision.
As the ministers discussed the proposal, dozens of relatives of Israelis who were killed in terror attacks protested outside the Prime Minister's Office against the release of Palestinian prisoners. The protesters chanted: "You do not release murderers of children". They handed out the private phone numbers of the ministers to passersby, urging them to call the ministers and ask that they vote against the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett joined the protesters and said: "Releasing terrorists bring a lot of bereavement and it is a mark of disgrace on the State of Israel."
Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report
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