MKs Back Referendum on Golan, East Jerusalem Withdrawals

Plenum approves first reading of bill requiring referendum on any government move to relinquish sovereign territory.

A special Knesset committee approved in its first reading a bill Wednesday mandating that any government decision to withdraw from parts of sovereign Israeli territory - including the Golan Heights and Jerusalem - be subject to a national referendum, elections, or two-thirds majority approval in the parliament.

The committee approved the measure thanks to support from the Labor Party. MK Collette Avital said Labor has consistently backed the referendum proposal since the Rabin era.

The bill stipulates that a referendum be held 90 days following Knesset approval of a government decision to withdraw from territory. The day of the referendum would be given the status of a statutory holiday and political advertisements and campaigning would be restricted by election laws. The amount of funds the parties would be eligible for has yet to be determined.

The Knesset House Committee chairman, MK David Tal, who also head the special panel, said the law will aid Prime Minister Ehud Olmert by preventing him from making concessions which he said were liable to endanger Israel. The law's passage would not hinder the premier in the ongoing negotiations with Syria.

Tal was insistent in advancing the law during the current Knesset session due to the possibility of imminent elections. The chairman of the Knesset's Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, MK Menahem Ben-Sasson, argued for the legislation to be adopted as a Basic Law.

Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On said the law changes the rules of the democratic process, transferring responsibility from the legislature to the public at large.

"This will harm the Knesset's standing as the sovereign," Gal-On said. "The job of deciding is the job of the Knesset." The Meretz MK also criticized the Labor Party for "zigzagging from its position."