Labor set to back Golan referendum

Bill allows for two ways to avoid referendum: a 2/3 majority in Knesset, or elections after concession.

golan heights 224 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
golan heights 224 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Labor Party MKs are likely to ultimately throw their support behind the bill that would require a national referendum before the government can agree to cede the Golan Heights to Syria as part of any potential peace deal. One Labor MK who has participated in the discussions surrounding the bill said that former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin had promised in the early nineties that should he achieve an agreement with Syria, he would not give up the region without first holding a similar national referendum. Labor's support for the bill would give the legislation a crucial leg up during its second and third Knesset readings, which MK David Tal (Kadima) hopes will be held on the opening day of the winter session. Tal, who is chairing the joint meetings of the House and Law committees in which the bill is being prepared for its final readings, has scheduled an additional two marathon sessions in which to hammer out details of the complex legislation. The joint committee was supposed to meet Thursday, but the session was delayed. Nevertheless, MKs who participated in earlier sessions requested that Tal schedule the additional meetings to hear more expert opinions on the issues of publicity for both sides of the referendum campaign and on whether the day of a national referendum should be a vacation day, similar to election days. Tal said that he tends to oppose the latter, expressing concern at the estimated NIS 1.3 billion expense that each vacation day costs the economy. Similarly, the committee is still debating a formal name for the legislation - a choice that could impact its prospects for approval. The current proposed title implies that the national referendum vote will be employed every time Israel is considering ceding any territory under its administrative authority. But to secure a wider margin of support among Knesset members, MKs decided in their previous meeting, held last Tuesday, that the law would only apply to the specific case of the Golan Heights. The bill is considered a stopgap measure to try to prevent Prime Minister Ehud Olmert from turning over the Golan Heights as part of an agreement with Syria, and as such, enjoyed a wide margin of support in its previous reading on the house floor. The legislation allows for two instances in which a referendum will not be required - if the concession passes the Knesset by a two-thirds majority with 80 MKs supporting it or if a general election is to be held within 180 days of the Knesset okaying a government decision on such a concession. After passing its first reading by a vote of 65-18 in late June, the bill, if it gained the additional of all Labor MKs, would be backed by two-thirds of the Knesset - beyond the number required for approving a Basic Law.