The Knesset approved legislation yesterday that would require a referendum to take place before Israel relinquished sovereignty on any territory currently under her jurisdiction. Such a referendum would be held follow the approval of any proposal by the Knesset.
The intention of this new law is to ensure that Israel not withdraw from the Golan Heights or East Jerusalem simply on the basis of a parliamentary majority favouring such a course of action, but that it would also require the approval of the majority of those participating in a national referendum conducted for that purpose.
Some would question why a full parliamentary democracy is in need of such a mechanism. Once our political leaders are no longer entrusted to make decisions on behalf of the electorate who appointed them, then one could well argue that every major policy decision should also be brought to the people for their approval.
If Moses had conducted such a referendum in the Sinai desert, the Israelites would, no doubt, have returned to Egypt! True leadership demands the ability to make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions unless, that is, we wish to live in a country in which the tail wags the dog.
Of course, a withdrawal from the Golan Heights or from East Jerusalem would have major political and security implications and it could be argued that such decisions should not be made on the basis of a slender parliamentary majority, or as a result of coalition bargaining. However, such an end could have been achieved by simply increasing the Knesset majority required for such an action.
Equally problematic is the timing of this new piece of legislation. When the U.S. Administration is deep in negotiations with Israel’s government in an attempt to salvage the peace talks, it is hardly helpful for the Knesset to pass legislation that will make it even more difficult for Israel to make the sacrifices that will be required for her to reach an accommodation with her neighbours.