Bill Would Require Golan Referendum

Majority of MKs support bill, cabinet opposes it; experts: Cost of referendum would be about NIS 200m.

A special Knesset committee is currently preparing a bill that would require holding a referendum or elections before ceding any territory under Israeli sovereignty - including the Golan Heights.

A majority of MKs support the bill, but the cabinet opposes it. Experts told the committee that the cost of a referendum would be about NIS 200 million, not including any financing for parties' campaigns for or against it.

An existing law already mandates a referendum before ceding any territory under Israeli sovereignty, but it also states that this requirement will not apply until a Basic Law detailing the procedures for holding a referendum is passed. Since passing such a Basic Law seems to be nearly impossible in today's political constellation, the current bill eliminated the need to enact a Basic Law. Instead, it proposed that the requisite procedures be drafted by the Central Elections Commission.

But after legal experts agreed that a constitutional revolution such as instituting referenda - which have never before been used in Israel - ought to be enacted via legislation, and not through regulations promulgated by an administrative agency such as the CEC, the committee decided to include the procedural rules for holding a referendum in the bill itself.

One proposed rule states that while in general, a referendum or elections will be required to concede sovereign territory, very small areas could be conceded by a vote of 80 Knesset members, a two-thirds majority.

The new proposal was sponsored by two Kadima MKs: former coalition whip Avigdor Yitzhaki, who has since quit the Knesset, and Ruhama Avraham-Balila, who has since been named a cabinet minister. However, the bill is still advancing.

Normally, it would have been sent to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. However, since the chairman of the committee, Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima), objected to the law, a joint committee comprised of members of both the Constitution and the House Committees was established. The joint panel is headed by House Committee Chair David Tal (Kadima), a strong opponent of withdrawing from the Golan.

Due to the cabinet's opposition, Tal estimates his chances of passing the bill at only 50-50.