Israel took a step this week toward improving its long-term prospects for peace and security, when the Knesset voted by a large majority (68-22) to advance a bill creating a ratification procedure for ceding sovereign Israeli territory.
Incredibly, Israeli law currently requires no ratification process — even a Knesset vote — for most territorial concessions. In practice, governments have always sought Knesset approval, but legally, cabinet approval is enough. And because no law requires otherwise, even the slimmest Knesset majority is deemed sufficient: the Oslo 2 agreement, for instance, passed 61-59.
The current bill would require approval by either a two-thirds Knesset majority (80 MKs) or a simple majority in a national referendum. It has therefore sparked howls of outrage from the Left, which charges that this requirement would preclude any agreement with either the Palestinians or Syria.
That is obvious nonsense: more than 80 MKs supported the peace treaties with both Egypt and Jordan, so the hurdle clearly isn’t insurmountable.
Nevertheless, several withdrawals have failed to muster that level of Knesset support, including the first and second Oslo accords (1993 and 1995) and the 2005 disengagement from Gaza (whether they would have passed a referendum is unknowable). And that is precisely the point: because only agreements with clear benefits and demonstrable chances of success would be able to pass, a stringent ratification procedure could save Israel from disastrous deals.
The Egyptian and Jordanian treaties, which did pass the proposed hurdle, have in fact proved beneficial. Both countries maintain a cold peace and often work against Israel in international forums, but nevertheless, both have given Israelis what they most wanted: no more war, and no more cross-border terror.
The Oslo accords and the disengagement, in contrast, were security disasters. In the first 30 months after Oslo 1, Palestinians killed more Israelis than in the entire preceding decade. In the second intifada, Palestinian terror claimed more Israeli victims than it had in the preceding 53 years. And since the disengagement, southern Israel has endured almost 6,000 rocket and mortar strikes.
Nor are these results coincidental. The Egyptian and Jordanian accords received such widespread support precisely because there was strong evidence that they would succeed: Anwar Sadat’s dramatic visit to Jerusalem demonstrated a real desire for peace; Jordan had proved the same via a decades-long cease-fire. In contrast, there was very little evidence of a true Palestinian desire for peace. And while the plea to “give peace a chance” evidently suffices to muster a simple Knesset majority for just about anything, a two-thirds majority is hard to secure without evidence that peace is, in fact, likely to result.
Regrettably, the current bill would have prevented neither Oslo nor the disengagement: it applies only to territory that Israel has formally annexed (the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem), whereas it ought to cover all territorial concessions. But even in its current form, it would help prevent similarly disastrous final-status deals with either the Palestinians or Syria. Its enactment would therefore be an important step toward achieving real peace and security for Israel.