IDF soldiers on the Golan Heights
IDF soldiers on the Golan Heightsphoto: file

The Knesset approved on Monday the first reading of a bill that would mandate a national referendum on any future Israeli territorial concessions. The Knesset's Golan Lobby sees the vote as a tremendous success, with 65 Knesset Members supporting the bill and only 18 opposed.

According to the bill, a Knesset vote and a nationwide referendum would be required for any agreement to cede

MKs opposing the bill included the far-left Meretz party, a Communist party spin-off (Hadash), and the Arab parties.

territory currently under Israeli jurisdiction. The referendum, to be held 90 days after the Knesset vote, would include the wording of the relevant government decision and would offer voters the chance to approve or reject the proposed concession.

In the event that 80 MKs or more approve the government decision, however, no referendum would be required. An additional caveat is that if national elections are to be held within 180 days of the Knesset vote on the proposed concession, the election results would be considered equivalent to a referendum.

The large support for the proposed law was a result, in part, of the coalition parties allowing their Knesset representatives the freedom to vote their consciences, rather than imposing party discipline. The bill still has to pass through committee and face two more parliamentary votes before it becomes law.

"The Knesset has given a message to the Prime Minister and to President Assad that Israel will not withdraw from the Golan Heights," said MK Yisrael Katz (Likud). "The Golan Lobby, which I head, will take action towards a speedy conclusion of the legislation process for this bill, as soon as during the term of the current Knesset."

MKs opposing the bill included the far-left Meretz party, a Communist party spin-off (Hadash), and the Arab parties Ra'am-Ta'al and the National Democratic Assembly. MK Zehava Gal'on (Meretz) said that the law would "change the rules of the game." She believes that a national referendum would "lessen the status of the Knesset" by "transferring the decision from the Knesset to the people."

A National Referendum 'Will Most Certainly Be Honored'

Ahead of the vote, during a meeting of the MKs in the Golan Lobby, opposition head Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) said, "The most fateful decision a state can make about its future is a decision regarding... the ceding of territory. In many countries in the world, it is a very rare  thing, which entails all sorts of complicated and impossible legal maneuvers. In our case, people can make such decisions with the wave of a hand - as in the case of the Golan Heights, about which there is a broad national consensus [against withdrawal]."

Asked by Israel National News why no referendum was held ahead of the uprooting of Jewish communities in Gaza and northern Samaria under the Sharon administration - the Disengagement - Netanyahu replied: "At the time, we called for a referendum and our demand was rejected. There was a referendum among Likud members and for some reason, we were ignored. A referendum such as the one we are legislating, however, will most certainly be honored."

MK David Tal (Kadima) said that the law, if passed in its second and third round, will "encourage the residents of the Golan Heights and prevent dangerous concessions."

Israeli and Syrian representatives have already met in discussions over an agreement that would allegedly include Israeli concessions on the Golan Heights. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed the desire to meet with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in coming weeks; however, Assad rejected the offer.