Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu pledges referendum on peace deal with Palestinians

  • @AlistairDawber

Benjamin Netanyahu used his weekly address to the Israeli cabinet today to reiterate his promise that any eventual peace deal with the Palestinians would be put to a referendum.

The Israeli prime minister faces opposition to the process led by US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and from within his own cabinet, with some members threatening to resign in the event that Israeli officials resume face-to-face talks. Tzipi Livni – who has responsibility for the peace process - and Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians’ chief negotiator, are due in Washington next week to hammer out the final details before talks can take place.

In an effort to assuage those on the right who argue that talks should not take place, Mr Netanyahu again promised that the people would ultimately decide on any deal. He is also attempting to mollify those concerned that the basis for negotiations will be 1967 borders, which many Israelis believe will leave the country vulnerable.

Reports over the weekend suggested that Mr Kerry had given the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, a written undertaking that 1967 would form the starting point of talks.

 “We are now making an effort to resume the diplomatic process. I see this as a vital strategic interest of the State of Israel, first of all because we want peace,” Mr Netanyahu said.

“At the same time, I am committed to two goals, and it must be understood that they must also guide the result, should there be one. First of all, if it will be, it will be put to a referendum. I believe that this is necessary. I do not think that such decisions can be made, if indeed an agreement is achieved, by this or that coalition process; it must be put to the people for a decision.”

Referenda are not used in Israel and any plebiscite would require new legislation in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. Opponents of the peace process would be expected to use the vote as a way of scuppering any deal with the Palestinians. Several members of the Israeli cabinet, including the trade minister, Naftali Bennett, have said that they could not tolerate a deal that led to an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank.

Shimon Peres, the Israeli president called Mr Abbas on Sunday morning, according to his office, to congratulate him on the decision to return to talks. Mr Peres told the Palestinian president, that: “There is no alternative to peace, not for us and not for you. You took a brave and historic decision to return to negotiations – don't listen to the sceptics, you did the right thing.”

Mr Kerry trumpeted the fact that Ms Livni and Mr Erekat will visit Washington next week, but so far the deal does not go as far as securing direct negotiations between the two sides. It is thought that it could take a number of weeks before face-to-face talks take place.