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Netanyahu backs referendum on any peace deal

JERUSALEM -- Israel's prime minister said Thursday that any peace deal reached with the Palestinians on his watch would be subject to a national referendum, backing a contentious step that could hinder peace efforts.

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have been frozen for more than four years, but the referendum issue re-emerged this week when two of Benjamin Netanyahu's main coalition partners reportedly signaled support for the proposal.

The discussion comes as Secretary of State John Kerry attempts to re-energize peace talks.

"If we get to a peace agreement with the Palestinians, I'd like to bring it to a referendum," Netanyahu said at the start of a meeting with the visiting Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter.

Israeli politicians have in recent days debated the contentious issue, following a media report that said Netanyahu's main coalition partners, Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, are seeking a referendum on an agreement with the Palestinians and would raise the issue again in parliament.

A spokeswoman for Bennett could not immediately be reached and Lapid's party said it was studying the issue and did not yet have a position.

While a majority of Israelis support a two-state solution with the Palestinians, polls tend to show most oppose dividing Jerusalem.

Justice Minister and chief peace negotiator Tzipi Livni has said she opposes a referendum, saying the difficult decisions Israel would face in deciding to cede land should be left to democratically elected leaders.

Proponents of a referendum say it is the only process that would provide popular legitimacy for a peace agreement.

Palestinian officials have in the past also broached the topic of a national vote, saying that Palestinians, including those in exile, would be able to vote on any future peace deal in a referendum.

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