JERUSALEM -- Hoping to appease right-wing lawmakers opposed to restarting Palestinian peace talks, Israel’s coalition government Sunday approved a draft bill that would require -- if passed by the Knesset -- that a proposed deal be approved by voters in a referendum.
“It is important that every citizen have a direct vote on fateful decisions such as these that will determine the future of the state,’’ said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu put the measure before his Cabinet on Sunday in an attempt to soften opposition to a more controversial agenda item to release 104 Palestinian prisoners as a concession to lure Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
The referendum bill -- which was sought by the nationalist Jewish Home party -- will be introduced as a so-called Basic Law, which is roughly comparable in Israel to constitutional law in the U.S. Israel has no constitution, but Basic Laws are intended to secure basic rights and trump other laws.
A similar referendum law was passed in 2010, but it was not a Basic Law and is currently being challenged in court.
Passage of a referendum Basic Law could face difficulties in the Knesset. Some lawmakers fear that requiring a referendum puts another obstacle in the way of reaching a deal with Palestinians, particularly one that requires Israel to give up territory seized in 1967 or evacuate West Bank settlements.
Others say using the referendum process sets a bad precedent for Israel’s democracy, warning it will open the door to using referendums on many other issues, such as reducing the military or expanding settlements. They insist such matters are better left to the elected representatives.