New Israeli law could slow peace efforts


Israeli Knesset passed into law Monday a bill that could make it significantly more difficult for an Israeli government to consummate peace agreements with the Palestinians and the Syrians.

The legislation, which passed 65-33, would require a popular referendum or a two-thirds Knesset super majority to approve any Israeli withdrawal from East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights — two areas the Jewish state annexed after capturing them from Jordan and Syria, respectively, in 1967’S Six-Day War.

The Syrian government has long demanded a full withdrawal from the Golan for peace with Israel, while the Palestinian leaders say that their capital must be in East Jerusalem.

The rest of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which would constitute the bulk of any Palestinian state, remains exempt from the legislation because it was never officially annexed.

“A law like this will prevent irresponsible accords in the future, and on the other hand, will allow governments to pass with strong public support any agreement that will answer Israel´s national interests,” said Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, adding that he is confident that any peace deal he agrees to would be able to obtain such support.

Mr. Netanyahu, who declared his support for a two-state solution last year, remains publicly opposed to relinquishing the Golan or any part of Jerusalem, though previous Israeli governments have reached understandings with the Palestinians and Syrians on these issues in past negotiations.

Opposition chief Tzipi Livni, head of the centrist Kadima Party, which opposed the bill, strongly criticized the legislation, saying that territorial withdrawals are “the kind of decisions taken by a leadership which understands the gravity of the issues at hand, from all sides” and “would be tied to considerations that are not always made public.”

“It has nothing to do with right-wing or left-wing but on decision making in a democracy, where there is only one referendum and that’s a general election,” she said.

Mockery of international law

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said: “With the passage of this bill, the Israeli leadership, yet again, is making a mockery of international law. Ending the occupation of our land is not and cannot be dependent on any sort of referendum.” The new law presents another complication for the US – talks are on hold while the US tries to convince Israel to accept a $US3 billion ($3.06bn) package of 20 new fighter jets to agree to extend for three months a freeze in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Mr Netanyahu has said he was waiting to see the offer in writing.