Middle East

Netanyahu pledges Israeli referendum on peace deal

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to the media in parliament on 22 July 2013
Image caption PM Benjamin Netanyahu said "achieving peace is a crucial goal for Israel"

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to put any future peace deal with the Palestinians to a referendum.

He said a referendum was needed to "prevent a rift among the people".

Meanwhile a date for the resumption of talks remains unclear; the White House said bringing both sides to the table was an "enormous challenge".

US Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Friday that the talks would begin "in the next week or so".

He said the parties had "reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis".

However, there has been uncertainty since then over how firm that agreement is.

'All options open'

Mr Netanyahu announced to reporters in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) that he was fast-tracking legislation that would allow him to hold a referendum.

"Any agreement that is not approved by the people is not worthy of being signed," he said, adding that "achieving peace is a crucial goal for Israel".

He has reportedly said he will seek the approval of his cabinet before going ahead with the talks.

Some members of his cabinet oppose any negotiations that would involve giving land to the Palestinians.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians, opposes a referendum.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he too would put any peace deal to a referendum - a long-standing position.

Speaking to Jordan's daily al-Rai on Friday, Mr Abbas said "all options are open" if latest efforts failed, suggesting he would pursue a renewed push for UN recognition, something Israel opposes.

The Palestinians have insisted Israel recognise pre-1967 ceasefire lines as borders of a Palestinian state, subject to some negotiation, before any talks commence, but this is something that has been opposed by right-wing members of Mr Netanyahu's coalition.

The issue of settlement-building halted the last direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians in 2010.