Palestinians, Syria slam Israel referendum law

Palestinian and Syrian officials on Tuesday condemned a new Israeli law mandating a national referendum ahead of any withdrawal from annexed east Jerusalem or the Golan Heights.

By (AFP)

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Published: Tue 23 Nov 2010, 9:43 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 8:18 AM

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said the bill, 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.”

In Damascus, the foreign ministry said “Syria totally rejects this Israeli measure which changes nothing to the fact that the Golan is Syrian territory and cannot be part of any negotiations.”

The legislation, which was backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, passed with 65 Knesset members in favour and 33 against, and no abstentions.

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 Six-Day 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.”

Syria and Israel remain technically at war, and there are no official peace talks between the two countries at present.

“This law is addressed to those who still have illusions concerning the current Israeli government and who believe that it seeks peace,” the Syrian foreign ministry said.

The legislation also drew condemnation within Israel, with Defence Minister Ehud Barak saying it could serve as propaganda fodder for Israel’s foes.

“I’m not sure this law was needed or urgent and could be made use of by Israel’s enemies, letting them claim Israel is opposed to peace by shackling itself to avoid progressing on the peace process,” Barak told a conference Tuesday.

However, other domestic 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.

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

“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.”

The Syrian media slammed the legislation, saying it was a sign that Israel had no interest in making peace.

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

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