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Netanyahu plans peace talks referendum bill

Israel prime minister says bill would allow him to put any future peace deal with Palestinians to a national referendum.

Last Modified: 22 Jul 2013 18:36
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Israeli politicians are divided on a referendum, seen by some as an attempt by hard-liners to torpedo any deal [AFP]

Israel's premier has announced he is fast-tracking legislation that would allow him to put any future peace deal with the Palestinians to a national referendum.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Monday that a referendum is needed to prevent a rift in Israeli society.

Polls have suggested a majority of Israelis support the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but many groups are vehemently opposed, including hard-liners among Israel's West Bank settlers.

Any agreement that is not approved by the people is not worthy of being signed.

Binyamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister

Some issues are particularly volatile, including partition of Jerusalem, home to major religious shrines and claimed by both sides as a capital.

Netanyahu's announcement came three days after US Secretary of State John Kerry said progress has been made toward a resumption of talks following a five-year hiatus.

Kerry invited negotiators to Washington for preliminary talks in the coming days or weeks, though wide gaps remain between the sides on the framework for actual negotiations.

Netanyahu said on Monday that he would present proposed legislation soon to his Cabinet and then to parliament, but he did not disclose details of the planned bill.

"Any agreement that is not approved by the people is not worthy of being signed," Netanyahu said in a televised announcement from Israel's parliament.

On an issue as important and fateful as a peace deal, "it is desirable that it be presented to every single citizen to decide," he said.

Politicians divided

Israeli politicians are divided on a referendum, seen by some as an attempt by hard-liners to torpedo any deal.

One of Netanyahu's two main coalition partners, the pro-settler Jewish Home party, wants a referendum. The other, the Yesh Atid faction, has said it is still studying the issue.

Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, has said she opposes the idea and that important decisions should be left to democratically elected leaders.

Separately, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in comments published on Monday that he also plans to hold a referendum on any possible peace deal, reiterating a long-standing Palestinian position.

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