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Middle East

Israel approves peace referendum bill

Government approves bill stating that any peace treaty reached with Palestinians would be put to a referendum.

Last Modified: 28 Jul 2013 12:04
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Right-wing groups have protested against the release of Palestinian prisoners as a step to renew peace talks [Reuters]

The Israeli government has approved a bill to submit any peace treaty with the Palestinians to a referendum, a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said.

"Any agreement which may be reached in negotiations will be put to a referendum," it quoted him as saying on Sunday.

"It is important that on such historic decisions every citizen should vote directly on an issue deciding the country's future."

The decision comes a day after Netanyahu said that Israel would free 104 Palestinian prisoners to coincide with the resumption of long-stalled peace talks.

"I agreed to free 104 Palestinians in stages, after the start of negotiations and according to progress," he wrote on his official Facebook page on Saturday evening.

A Palestinian official told AFP news agency on Saturday that a US-brokered renewal of negotiations, stalled since September 2010, would open in Washington on Tuesday.

There has so far been no official confirmation.

Future Palestinian state

A cabinet briefing paper said the government saw the referendum bill as "urgent and important" and said it would be asking parliament to fast-track its passage into law.

Israeli media said that it could go before the house for a first reading this week.

If adopted, a referendum would be a final endorsement of a treaty after ratification by the government and parliament.

The draft is seen as a gesture to rightwing ministers apprehensive of concessions that could be demanded of Israel in the talks.

It would oblige a referendum in cases where territory over which Israel claims sovereignty is ceded in a peace agreement or by a cabinet decision.

That would include any part of mainly-Arab East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Israel rules out ceding sovereignty over any part of what it calls its "eternal and indivisible capital".

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