The Israeli government on Monday endorsed a bill requiring a national referendum be held before any withdrawal from occupied east Jerusalem or the Golan Heights, the justice ministry said.
"The inter-ministerial committee on legislation ratified a bill proposed by Likud MP Yaariv Levin about withdrawing from territories where Israel has sovereignty," a justice ministry spokesman told AFP referring to territories annexed by Israel after the 1967 Middle East war.
The committee gave the draft decisive approval, with seven votes in favour to three against.
It must still pass three readings in parliament, although Israeli media predicted that with the government's support, its passage into law was assured.
The ministerial decision came one day after the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved an amendment to the citizenship law that would oblige non-Jews seeking Israeli nationality to pledge allegiance to the country as a Jewish state.
Israeli commentators said that taken together, the two moves were an attempt by Netanyahu to strengthen his nationalist credentials, possibly with an eye to securing cabinet support in the event of concessions to the Palestinians such as extending a West Bank settlement freeze.
"In the opinion of Likud ministers, the fact that the two bills will be raised for discussion in the same week attests to the pressure that Netanyahu is facing on the issue of the construction freeze," political correspondent Itamar Eichner wrote in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper.
Eichner cited the unnamed Likud ministers as saying Netanyahu was seeking to avoid confrontation with Washington while holding together his coalition government, which is dominated by right-wing supporters of the settlers.
"On one hand, he is conducting intensive talks with the Americans in an attempt to improve the package of benefits that Israel will receive in exchange for extending the freeze, and on the other hand, he is working to prepare the right wing for difficult decisions," he wrote.
Under the terms of the referendum bill, any move to relinquish annexed territories must first be approved by the Knesset, or Israeli parliament, then put to a national referendum within the following six months.
But if such a move won a majority of more than two thirds in the 120-member Knesset, there would be no need to put it to a referendum, the justice ministry spokesman said.
Given the multitude of parties in the parliament and the government's slim majority there, such an outcome seems unlikely.
East Jerusalem was annexed shortly after the 1967 Six-Day War, while the Golan Heights was formally annexed in 1981.
Source: AFP Global Edition