Golan bill advances - but put on hold

PM opposes referendum before handing over annexed territory.

Golan (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Although the Knesset House Committee advanced a bill on Wednesday that would limit the prime minister's possibilities during any future negotiations on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, sources close to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that it would be months before the bill came to a final vote on the Knesset floor.
The House Committee voted six to two in favor of the Golan Heights and Jerusalem National Referendum Bill, despite the staunch opposition of the Prime Minister's Office to the bill. The bill would require a national referendum in any instance in which Israel agreed to hand over areas annexed by Israel. Both the Golan Heights and parts of the Jerusalem municipality located beyond the 1967 border of Israel have been annexed, and would thus be included within the framework of the law. According to the law, any such deal must first be approved by the Knesset and only then undergo a national referendum within 180 days if passed.
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“This is a law of supreme national importance to maintain the unity of the state, a law that has won support across parties and political camps,” said House Committee Chairman MK Yariv Levine (Likud), who chaired the special committee tasked with preparing the bill for its second and third readings. “This law will require all leaders of Israel to arrive at agreements that are good for Israel, acceptable to the general public, and will maintain our rights in the Land of Israel.”
The current form of the bill tasks the Central Elections Committee with running any future referendum, and would declare any referendum day to be equivalent to an elections day. The format of the referendum question will be phrased would read “are you in favor of or opposed to the agreement approved by the Knesset?”
Sources close to the prime minister told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday afternoon that the bill had been passed pending consultation with the government on a number of key issues, and that until those issues were resolved, the bill would not be brought to its final authorization on the house floor. Although the Ministerial Committee for Legislation had backed the bill, and the coalition had supported reviving it for debate with the commencement of the current Knesset, the official said that the prime minister now hoped that the bill would be delayed as much as possible. At a minimum, they said, the bill is not likely to reach the floor until the Knesset's Winter Session, which begins in October.
Kadima MK Shlomo Molla, who voted against the bill, said that "it would appear that Likud does not trust its own prime minister to keep hold of the Golan. The passing of the bill will limit the prime minister's ability to act." Molla added that the bill's real aim is to bury negotiations with the Syrians. Molla's opinion – that the goal of the bill was to block any potential turnover of land – was echoed by a number of left-wing Mks, including MK Haim Oron (Meretz).
But MK Daniel Ben-Simon (Labor) said that it was exactly the fact that the bill was meant to counter-balance the influence of the legislature that made him support it.
“Ï always opposed referenda because they were meant to bypass the Knesset and the broad public consensus in the Ninteies that supported handing over the Golan Heights, but times have changed and after a year and a half in what I believe to be the most extremist Knesset in the history of Israel, I support such a bill,” said Ben-Simon. “In the past, national referenda were suggested as a way to block any final agreements, but now it would help to approve them, because otherwise, Netanyahu has no way to bring an agreement through the Knesset without risking splitting the Likud and his coalition.”
“If Netanyahu were to hold a vote in the Knesset alone on withdrawing from the Golan Heights, it would fail. Times have changed. There is no Menachem Begin, no Ariel Sharon and no Yitzhak Rabin. Instead of leaders, there are governmental technicians. Now the greater wisdom is not within the government, but among the general public,” concluded Ben-Simon, recognizing that many of his fellow Labor Mks did not agree with his position.