JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's parliament on Wednesday passed a law requiring a national referendum to approve any future withdrawal from east Jerusalem — adding a new hurdle to any future peace deal with the Palestinians.
The U.S. is mediating peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in which the fate of Jerusalem is being debated. There has been little sign of progress in the talks so far. The issue of sovereignty over east Jerusalem, home to key religious sites, is the most sensitive in peace talks. Israel captured the area in 1967 from Jordan and says it is part of its eternal capital.
The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as their capital. The law, passed by a 68-0 margin Wednesday, would require a referendum on any withdrawal from "sovereign" Israeli territory. Israel annexed east Jerusalem, though its control is not internationally recognized. Opposition lawmakers boycotted the vote.
Zeev Elkin, a lawmaker from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party, said the law provided another "wall" to prevent Israel from relinquishing the "homeland." A referendum on such a sensitive issue could potentially stymie an agreement if Israel and Palestinian negotiators reach final stages of hammering out a deal.
There is widespread opposition to dividing Jerusalem in Israel due to its religious and historic significance for Jews along with security concerns. The law also calls for a separate referendum on the Golan Heights which Israel captured from Syria in 1967. With Syria's future uncertain as rebel forces battle the regime of President Bashar Assad it is unclear when such a referendum might realistically be held on that front.