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The Basic Laws of Israel do not provide for the holding of referendums in Israel, and the country has never held one. However, on 30 June 2008, the Knesset approved in its first reading a law that mandates a national referendum or a two thirds Knesset majority (i.e. 80 MKs out of 120) prior to any territorial withdrawal.[1] For a law to pass it must be approved in three independent readings.

The law was enacted in the context of peace talks with Syria, which wants Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights based on the "land for peace" formula. The Golan Heights were occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, and were unilaterally annexed in 1981. Because many Israelis oppose a retreat from the Golan Heights, several Knesset members wanted to ensure that any proposal to withdraw from the area would be "approved by the people, without outside considerations, tricks or political bribes", hence the adoption of the referendum law.

Israel already has another law which mandates a referendum before ceding any territory under Israeli sovereignty, but that law also states that it would not apply until a Basic Law detailing the procedures for holding a referendum is passed. The new law eliminates the need to enact a Basic Law. Instead, it requires that territorial concessions be approved by a national referendum or general elections or a majority of 80 Knesset members. The Knesset may always change this law by a simple majority under the general principle that a later law takes precedence over an earlier one.

The holding of a referendum has been proposed several times over the course of Israel's history, although none of these proposals has ever succeeded. David Ben-Gurion proposed a referendum on the introduction of a majoritarian electoral system in 1958 to reduce the influence of the National Religious Party. Menachem Begin proposed the introduction of a legislative initiative, which would have allowed 100,000 citizens to demand that a proposed law be submitted to a referendum. The referendum was also briefly discussed in the 1970s, when a plebiscite over the future of the West Bank was considered.[2]

Most recently, a referendum was proposed in 2005 when then Prime minister Ariel Sharon proposed Israel's unilateral disengagement plan from the Gaza Strip. Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip who were opposed to the abandonment of their settlements there had asked that a national referendum be held on the plan. Sharon opposed the holding of a referendum, and the law was instead passed through the Knesset. Israel's withdrawal from its Sinai settlements in the 1980s (part of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty) was also never put to a referendum.




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