Golan Heights Referendum Amendments Reach Knesset Floor

Knesset committee backs bill specifying the ways in which a referendum would be conducted in the case of any territorial concessions, including those involving East Jerusalem, Golan Heights.

The Knesset's House Committee approved Wednesday amendments to the bill stipulating that a referendum would be conducted before Israel could perform any territorial concession, including a potential deal peace deal involving the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem.

Knesset House Committee
Michal Patel

The existing law demands a referendum on any withdrawal from Israeli territory, and the amendment relates to how the referendum would be held, which kind of questions would be posed, how any publicity would be managed and how the vote itself would be conducted.

The House Committee's approval meant that the amendments were okayed to proceed to the Knesset floor, where they would have to pass two more votes in order to be finally authorized.

National Union-National Religious Party MK Aryeh Eldad, a member of the referendum joint committee, said that soon "the bill would be brought before the Knesset for a vote, and I am confident that we will win by a large majority."

By passing the bill, Eldad said, the legislature would fulfill the will of the voters to see that "Israel's government could not give up the state's lands without asking the people first."

"This bill effectively thwarts the delusions of those who wish to give up on the Golan or divine Jerusalem in the name of empty promises," Elded said.

Likud MKCarmel Shama, who heads the Knesset's Golan Heights lobby, said that the House Committee vote was a "holiday for the citizens of Israel," saying that while "until today the Israel Defense Forces protected the Golan and Jerusalem from external threats, today the citizens of Israel can defend Jerusalem and the Golan from internal ones as well."

Meretz Chairman Haim Oron condemned the House Committee vote, saying it was "regrettable that the House Committee authorized the referendum bill in an expedient manner."

Oron claimed that the bill stood "against Israel's constitutional arrangement, dramatically limits the prime minister's diplomatic maneuvering space, and prevents a process even before it started."

"The government doesn't exist, doesn't see or do anything, and is moved again and again by the pressures of the Knesset's delusional right wing," Oron said.

Last December, sixty-eight law makers supported the referendum, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Minister Dan Meridor, who had appealed against the amendments in the past.

Barak had claimed at the time that the Labor Party objects to the suggested amendments, but stressed that in the event that the vote turns into a no-confidence motion, as suggested by Leftist party Meretz, Labor ministers will be forced to vote in favor of the bill.

"The suggested law for a referendum is unnecessary for two reasons," said Barak, elaborating, that "the first of which is the law imposes unnecessary restrictions on the prime minister upon entering negotiations with Syria, and it could create a false impression in the eyes of the global community that Israel is opposed to peace."

"The second reason," Barak continued, "a referendum is a complex matter, and in many ways contradicts the idea on which parliamentary governing is based."