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Palestinians slam Israel referendum law

on 11/01/2019

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat has strongly condemned a new Israeli law mandating a national referendum ahead of any pullout from annexed east Jerusalem or the Golan Heights seized from Syria.

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The law, passed by Israel’s parliament late on Monday night, makes “a mockery of international law, which is not subject to the whims of Israeli public opinion,” Erakat said in a statement released shortly after the vote.

The new legislation, backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, passed with 65 Knesset members in favour and 33 against, and no abstentions. The media in Syria on Tuesday also slammed the move.

It requires any government signing a peace agreement that cedes territory in east Jerusalem or the Golan, or any other sovereign territory within Israel itself, to secure either approval of parliament or hold a national referendum.

It would not affect territorial concessions within the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, which Israel has not annexed.

But Erakat said Israel had no right to put any future territorial concessions to a public vote.

“Ending the occupation of our land is not and cannot be dependent on any sort of referendum,” he said.

“Under international law there is a clear and absolute obligation on Israel to withdraw not only from east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, but from all of the territories that it has occupied since 1967.”

East Jerusalem was annexed shortly after the 1967 Middle East war, while the Golan Heights plateau was formally annexed in 1981. Both were captured in the conflict.

Any pullout from mainly Arab east Jerusalem would only occur as part of a peace deal, but talks between Israel and the Palestinians are currently suspended because of a dispute over Jewish settlement building.

The Palestinians have said they could seek international recognition for a unilateral declaration of statehood if peace talks are not relaunched soon, and Erakat said the referendum law brought new urgency to the proposal.

“The international community’s answer to this bill should be a worldwide recognition of the Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, with east Jerusalem as its capital.”

In Israel, reaction to the legislation was largely focused on what it meant for the country’s political system, with several observers arguing it weakened the Knesset and Israel’s legislative process.

Writing in the Haaretz newspaper, Zeev Segal noted that the legislation was the first time a referendum had been incorporated into Israel’s system of government.

“The Knesset thereby curtailed its own power and supremacy over the one issue it decided to subject to a referendum — ceding control of east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, territories to which Israeli law has been applied,” he wrote.

Ariella Ringel-Hoffman, writing in Yediot Aharonot daily, warned that a referendum was “not a process that enhances the decision-making process.”

“The opposite is true: this is a process that detracts and diminishes the responsibility of the political establishment, it diffuses it and decentralizes it in a bad way,” she wrote.

“This is still a tool that undermines the status of the government, its right and its obligation to conduct negotiations, to make the best agreements possible and to make decisions.”

In Damascus, the foreign ministry had no immediate comment, but local media slammed the legislation.

“This is a measure that will deal a strong blow to peace negotiations with Syria and the Palestinian Authority,” wrote Al-Watan, a daily close to the Damascus government.

Al-Baas, the paper of Syria’s ruling Baath party, called the law “a new aggressive measure that reflects Israel’s disdain for Arab rights and its rejection of international resolutions stipulating the withdrawal from Arab territory occupied in 1967.”


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