New Law Requires Golan Referendum
By Mitchell Bard
On January 26, 1999, the Knesset passed a bill that requires a national referendum on any government decision to withdraw from the Golan Heights. It also stipulates that a return of the Golan would have to be approved by at least 61 of 120 members of parliament.
The legislation was introduced by the Third Way party, which supports peace with the Palestinians but opposes a withdrawal from the Golan. The measure was approved 53-30, and received the support of several members of the opposition Labor Party.
The Third Way has been pushing for such legislation for some time, particularly in the wake of reports that former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was on the verge of an agreement with Syria that would have involved a significant retreat from the strategic heights captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed in 1981. Rabin was actually the one who first suggested a referendum, but he did so anticipating that it would endorse a withdrawal in exchange for peace.
While public opinion polls usually show a nearly even split with regard to withdrawal from the West Bank, large majorities have consistently opposed the return of the Golan.
Peace talks between Israel and Syria broke off in 1996 and periodic efforts to revive them have failed. Syria continues to insist that Israel agree to the complete withdrawal from the Golan before it will negotiate and Israel is equally insistent that it will make no territorial concessions until Syria outlines what it is prepared to do to normalize relations.
Sources: AP, January 26, 1999, and JTA, January 27, 1999.