Golan referendum bill cleared for vote

Law would require referendum on any Golan Heights withdrawal that does not gain majority of 80 MKs.

menahem ben sasson (photo credit: Courtesy www.yallakadima.co.il)
menahem ben sasson
(photo credit: Courtesy www.yallakadima.co.il)
The opposition to concessions on the Golan Heights received a leg up Wednesday when a joint session of the Knesset's Law and House committees okayed for first reading a bill that would demand a national referendum before handing over any land currently under full Israeli authority. Although not the first attempt to legislate a national referendum, the bill met with better-than-expected success after Labor announced its support. Before the joint-committee vote, Kadima, concerned that its members would break ranks, authorized its MKs to vote according to their personal opinions, despite Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's opposition to the legislation. Ultimately, the bill passed the committee by a vote of 8-4. It will now be brought to the Knesset floor, where with the combined support of Labor and the right-wing and religious parties - and even if all of Kadima's MKs vote against - it could still pass its first reading. If the bill becomes law, ceding any land under the administration and judicial authority of the State of Israel would demand, in addition to a government decision and Knesset approval, majority support in a national referendum. It would, however, offer the government a way out - if more than 80 MKs vote in favor of the move, a referendum would not be required. While the bill is being prepared for second and third (final) readings, the committee will deal with technical questions including funding and administering a referendum, how to determine the format of the questions asked in referenda and whether supporters or opposition to the referendum will be permitted to publicly advertise their standpoints. "I am happy with the committee's decision, and I am certain that the law will not interfere with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's negotiations with Syria, but will only serve to assist him in preventing dangerous concessions," House Committee Chairman MK David Tal (Kadima) said following the vote. Law Committee Chairman Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima) opposed the bill, saying "this is a change to the democratic order and as such, should not be done through regular legislation, but rather through the legislation of a Basic Law. In departing from this principle, MKs passed on a bad message to the public." Hadash MK Dov Henin attacked Labor lawmakers for backing the bill. "Labor chairman Ehud Barak was chosen to lead the peace camp, but I understand that [NU/NRP MK] Yitzhak Levy will welcome him to the National Union with open arms, and he can also be accepted to Israel Beiteinu; we don't want him in the peace camp."