Golan referendum bill passes first hurdle

Sponsors of bill hope legislation will also stop any government seeking to hand over other areas of the country.

Golan Heights 224 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski  [file])
Golan Heights 224 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
A bill designed to make it difficult to return the Golan Heights to Syria passed its first reading in the Knesset Monday evening, and its sponsors said they hoped the legislation would also stop any government seeking to hand over other areas of the country. The Golan Heights Referendum Bill passed its first reading on the house floor by a vote of 65-18, a promising majority for future readings of the legislation. If passed into law, the bill would require the approval of a national referendum before handing the Golan Heights over to Syria, and would require that any concession of land under direct jurisdiction and administration of the State of Israel pass both cabinet and Knesset approval, as well as a national referendum. MK David Tal (Kadima) - one of the bill's supporters after its original sponsor, Avigdor Yitzhaki, resigned his Knesset post - said that Monday's vote "strengthens residents of the Golan Heights and constitutes an important base to prevent concessions that are dangerous to the State of Israel, as well as giving the prime minister tools to continue negotiations. I thank MKs who supported this important bill, and call on all those who opposed it to review the law and to support it in its second and third readings." One of the bill's proponents said Monday evening that the bill was meant not just to reinforce the Golan Heights against any possible deal with Syria, but to "serve as a platform" to be applied to other cases, such as east Jerusalem, in which it appeared that land under Israeli authority was up for grabs. The legislation allows for two instances in which a referendum would not be required: if the concession passes the Knesset by a two-thirds majority with 80 MKs supporting the concession, or if within 180 days after the Knesset okays the cabinet decision, a general election for the Knesset is held. In that case, explained the bill's sponsors, "the concession will be a central part of the elections debate." They did, however, emphasize that the legislation allowed for a new government to cancel the decision of the previous government within 30 days after taking office. The bill also contains a section on how national referenda are to be held, including instructions for determining the date of a referendum and the right to participate in it. In the bill's current format, the same rules would apply to a national referendum as to a Knesset election, including mandating that voting day be considered a day off from work and that the Central Elections Committee be responsible for running the referendum.