Israel’s Knesset is now on break until after the High Holy Days in September. But members of Israel’s legislature made sure not to finish off the legislative year without one last heated verbal confrontation.
On Wednesday night the Knesset approved a new bill requiring a national referendum on any future Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Any agreement reached during the current talks in Washington will first require Israeli citizenry approval before signing away at the dotted line.
During the discussions over the bill, Arab Israeli MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad), who opposed the bill, declared to Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud), “You're an enemy of peace. We [the Arabs] were here before you and we'll be here after you."
At that point, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped in, retorting, “The first part [of your statement] is not true – and the second part will never happen.” According to one report, Netayahu’s response resulted in an outburst of applause from the Knesset floor.
Zahalka attempted to backtrack, claiming he had meant that “we’ll (the Palestinian people) be here after racism.”
It is known that Zahalka has a tendency to speak on behalf of the Arabs of the Palestinian Authority rather than those in his own constituency.
The bill which received the go ahead by the Cabinet on Sunday means that the government cannot approve any territorial compromise without first taking the decision to the public. The bill however only applies to the territories that are under Israeli sovereignty which means any Israeli agreement over Judea and Samaria will not be included in the measure.
However, the bill still needs to be passed through three hearings before it becomes law.
MK Hanna Swaid (Hadash) believes “this (potential) law is intended to silence the Arab parties,” she accused. The Arab Israeli legislators therefore chose to express their anger by using their three minutes on the Knesset podium to protest with silence.
Zahalka also taped his mouth shut, to which MK Penina Tamanu-Shata (Yesh Atid) joked, “Careful with the mustache!”
Naftali Bennet (Jewish Home) shot fiery criticisms against those Jewish parties such as Shas and Labor who were also against the bill.
“I hear [Shas chairman] Aryeh Deri preaching to me,” Bennett charged, and, in a reference to Shas’s support for the Oslo Accords, added, “The country was divided thanks to you. I could not believe that a party that relies on the Torah divides the land.”
Labor MK Hilik Bar protested by hosting a delegation of Palestinian representatives and allowing them to fly the Palestinian flag inside the Knesset.
“Tell me, have you gone crazy?” asked an exasperated Bennett. “A Palestinian flag in the Knesset? Did you fall on your head? Where’s the national pride? It’s a good thing the founders of Zionism weren’t defeatists like you.”