Israel's parliament toughens referendum-on-peace law

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during a joint news conference with his British counterpart David Cameron (not pictured) in Jerusalem March 12, 2014. REUTERS/Menahem Kahana/Pool

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's parliament on Wednesday toughened a law requiring a public referendum on potential land-for-peace deals involving withdrawals from land annexed by Israel.

The law turns legislation already passed in 2010 into a constitutional amendment that would require an absolute majority of 61 of the Israeli Knesset's 120 lawmakers to rescind.

"When it comes to making any such fateful decision, were such a moment to arrive, we must ask the people," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, moments before the amendment passed by a vote of 68 to 0.

Opposition lawmakers from left-wing, Arab and ultra-Orthodox parties boycotted the vote, accusing Netanyahu's government of rushing through a decision they see as controversial.

The law calls for a public vote to be held on any proposed peace deal in cases where the agreement calls for Israel to withdraw from land it has already annexed, such as East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Such a plebiscite could be avoided if at least 80 Israeli lawmakers were to vote in favor of such a deal.

Israel made East Jerusalem a part of its capital after capturing it in a 1967 war, a move never recognized internationally. It annexed the Golan, land it captured from Syria in the same war, in 1981.

Netanyahu has pledged in the past to go further than the new law and call a general vote on any deal achieved with Palestinians, including any withdrawal from the West Bank - occupied territory where it has built settlements, but which it has not annexed.

Some Israelis, citing past broad public support for peace deals with Egypt and Jordan, see a referendum as boosting the prospects of U.S.-brokered talks with Palestinians. These have shown scant progress since resuming in July, though Washington says it is striving to publish a framework for a deal soon.

Some left-leaning Israelis say a referendum could add obstacles to already complicated negotiations and give pro-settler opponents of trading land for peace another opportunity to thwart a deal.

(Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)