Tel Aviv (Dec. 15)
The 7,000 Jewish settlers on the Golan Heights were euphoric today after the Knesset voted 63-21 last night to apply Israeli law in that territory captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War — a move regarded as tantamount to annexation. The government’s swift action took the settlers by surprise. Their stunned disbelief turned to jubilation and celebration parties which began yesterday afternoon lasted well into the night in the 30 Jewish settlements.
The reaction was different among the 13,500 Druze who comprise the majority of the population on the Golan Heights although they are concentrated in only four villages. There are also 900 Alawi Moslems on the Heights. Most of the Druze opposed the Israeli annexation but their protests were muted.
The Israeli military presence was highly visible as forces were deployed on the Golan for possible Syrian or terrorist retaliation. A minority of pro-Israeli Druze shared the settlers’ satisfaction. Many of them had been under pressure from anti-Israel elements.
JUSTIFICATION FOR GOLAN MOVE
The annexation bill was rammed through the Knesset yesterday, passing all three readings required by law and gaining approval of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, a process that in the case of most other bills normally takes days or weeks. Premier Menachem Begin personally was the driving force behind the move and he easily carried Likud and its coalition partners with him.
Although Israel Radio reported yesterday that Begin exhorted his Cabinet to approve the annexation bill immediately because of the world’s preoccupation with the crisis in Poland, Israeli officials vigorously denied that was the case. They justified the move on grounds of security, historical right and the unlikelihood that Syria would agree to negotiate with Israel at any time in the foreseeable future.
LABOR IN TOTAL DISARRAY
The Labor Alignment was not only caught off guard but was in total disarray. Much of its affiliated kibbutz movement eagerly supported the government’s action, though a few members expressed concern about the international repercussions over what they regarded as a provocative move.
The split in Labor was glaringly evident. Although Labor’s Knesset faction voted 30-8 to boycott the session in protest against the government’s unseemly haste, seven Laborites voted against the bill and 10 were for it.
The bill passed its first reading by a vote of 60-17. The majority included coalition and Labor members. Other Laborites, joined by the Communist Party and the Shinui faction, were opposed. Begin’s Aguda Israel coalition partner did not participate in the first vote because its four-man faction had to consult the party’s supreme authority, the Council of Sages.
Shortly before the vote, Labor Party Whip Moshe Shahal tried in vain to rally the faction to adhere to the boycott decision. “If we do not present a united stand today there will be no Alignment faction tomorrow,” he warned.
During Labor’s intra-party debate, former Chief or Staff Mordechai Gur accused Defense Minister Ariel Sharon of using the bill to create a national consensus for a war against Syria. Knesset doves Yossi Sarid and Yair Tzaban agreed with him. But the influential Labor veteran Shlomo Hillel, supported the government’s measure. Both Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres and former Premier Yitzhak Rabin were abroad yesterday. Peres was in the United States and Rabin was in London.
REACTION FROM DAMASCUS
The immediate reaction from Damascus was that the Israeli move was a “declaration of war” and a “violation of the United Nations Charter.” According to Damascus Radio, the Syrian government said that Israel’s decision “means an annexation of Syrian occupied lands and a declaration of war on Syria and the abrogation of the cease-fire” that went into effect after the Yom Kippur War with the establishment of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force. Only last month the mandate of the force was renewed by the Security Council for another six months. Damascus Radio also quoted the government saying that Syria “will defend its territories and its national interests.”
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry also condemned the Israeli move yesterday as “a blatant violation” of the framework for peace in the Middle East based on the Camp David agreements and UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Cairo’s statement said Israel, by its action “increases the factors of tension in the area which Egypt is trying to remove.
SINAI WEST BANK SETTLERS HOPEFUL
Apart from the adverse reactions abroad which were beginning to mount today, the Golan move may increase the government’s difficulties with settlers in northern Sinai protesting the return of that territory to Egypt next April. In Yamit, where residents are locked in a battle with the government over compensation to relocate, demands were raised that the government act in Sinai as it did on the Golan.
Jewish settlers on the West Bank were delighted by the annexation of the Golan Heights and expressed hope that annexation of the West Bank will follow shortly. Arab mayors and other leaders on the West Bank denounced the Golan move as yet another example of “Israeli expansionism” against which they have been warning for years.