Prime Minister Netanyahu welcomed the law, saying any peace deal 'demands a broad national agreement' [AFP]

Israel's parliament, backed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, has approved a law that requires a two-thirds Knesset majority or a referendum on any potential land-for-peace deal concluded with Arab neighbours.

The law, which was passed by a vote of 65 to 33 on Monday, calls for putting any treaty involving a withdrawal from Israeli-annexed land to a public vote, in the event that Israel's parliament has not approved the deal in question by a two-thirds majority.

It would cover any agreements involving a pullback from occupied land Israel has already annexed - East Jerusalem, or the Golan Heights captured from Syria.

Netanyahu, who is currently engaged in efforts to revive stalled peace negotiations with the Palestinians, praised the passage of the law.

"Any peace agreement demands a broad national agreement and this law provides this," a statement from his office said after the vote.

"The Israel public is involved, informed and responsible and I trust that on the day of decision they would back a peace agreement that answers the national interests, security needs of the state of Israel," he said, according to the statement.

‘Right wing trick'

Critics, however, argued that the bill could further complicate US-backed talks with the Palestinians, stalled for weeks over the issue of Jewish settlement building, and accused Netanyahu of pushing the bill, initiated by a member of his Likud party, to give him a way out if he finds himself pressured by world opinion into a peace treaty with the Palestinians or Syria with which he is uncomfortable.

Speaking at the start of the televised debate, Haim Oron, head of the left-wing opposition Meretz party, described the initiative as a "trick" by the right to hobble any government peace attempt.

The vote was on an amendment to existing legislation passed in January 1999 in the final days of Netanyahu's previous government.

That legislation has the same basic premise but fails to spell out the mechanism for a referendum, which has never been held in Israel before.

Tzipi Livni, the opposition leader whose Kadima party commands 28 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, ordered her members of parliament to vote against the amendment.

"We have here a weak prime minister for whom it is convenient that he is hindered," the Ynet website quoted her as saying.

"We’re not talking here about a desire to listen to the will of the people but about setting up a veto on decisions of the government."

Palestinians' anger

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, denounced the measure and urged nations to respond by recognising Palestinian statehood on all West Bank land Israel occupied in a 1967 war.

"With the passage of this bill, the Israeli leadership, yet again, is making a mockery of international law," said Erekat.

"Ending the occupation of our land is not and cannot be dependent on any sort of referendum."

Erekat said Israel was obliged to withdraw from occupied land regardless of how its public voted, calling the parliamentary decision "Israel's attempt to veil its oppression of the Palestinian people as an exercise of Israeli democracy".

Palestinians want East Jerusalem as capital of a future state in the West Bank, but Israel sees it as a part of its undivided capital, and it could prove difficult to win Israeli public backing to relinquish even parts of the holy city.

Source: Agencies