JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said on Thursday that any peace agreement with the Palestinians should be put to a referendum, a move that some Israelis view as a potential obstacle to a deal even as Secretary of State John Kerry works intently to renew long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Netanyahu’s statement came as his special envoy, Isaac Molho, and Tzipi Livni, Israel’s minister of justice, who holds a special portfolio dealing with the peace process in the new government, were in Washington for a meeting with Kerry. An Israeli government official said the trip was meant chiefly to update the parties and suggested that it was not indicative of any breakthrough.
The Palestinians are not opposed to Israel’s holding a referendum and plan to hold one of their own should the sides arrive at an agreement.
But Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said in a telephone interview, “I think that Mr. Netanyahu should focus first on achieving peace and then on submitting it to a referendum.”
Netanyahu’s remarks in favor of a referendum, widely viewed as a nod to rightists in his governing coalition who are pressing for new legislation on the matter, came at the start of a meeting in Jerusalem with Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter of Switzerland. “There are a few things that I think we can learn from you, and one of them is the referendum,” Netanyahu told Burkhalter. “Not for every issue; not on every point of debate; but on one thing: That is, if we get to a peace agreement with the Palestinians, I’d like to bring it to a referendum. And I’d like to talk to you about your experiences with that, and many other things.”
Burkhalter replied that Netanyahu was welcome to visit Switzerland any time and learn about that country’s experience with referendums.
Left-leaning Israeli supporters of a peace deal have long argued that a referendum could impede the leadership’s ability to seal a treaty with Palestinians. Livni, a former foreign minister, has publicly opposed the idea of a referendum.