December 14, 1981
In a quickly organized and somewhat surprising move, the Knesset votes to annex the Golan Heights by a vote of 63-21. Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who had been discharged from the hospital the day before following surgery to repair a broken hip, was brought to the vote in a wheelchair (as shown in the photo). The Labor Party had organized a boycott of the vote, mostly in response to its hastily arranged presentation and one-day debate, but eight members crossed party lines and voted for the measure.
In defending his motivation for introducing the law on such short notice, Begin referenced recent remarks by Syrian President Hafez Assad which stated that Syria would not recognize Israel for 100 years, even if the PLO did so. Media reports also indicated that Begin wanted to get back at the United States and reassert Israel’s independence after the recent US sale of AWACS to Saudi Arabia (see https://israeled.org/ronald-reagan-arms-saudi-arabia/)
Israel had gained control of the Golan Heights following the June 1967 War and held the territory following the October 1973 War. In May 1974, the Disengagement Agreement signed between Israel and Syria did not require Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
The 1981 statute which formally annexed the Golan extended Israeli civilian law and administration to the residents there, replacing the military authority that had ruled the area since 1967.
International reaction, including that of the United States, to the law was almost universal in its condemnation of Israel. On December 20th, Begin responded in a statement to the US Ambassador to Israel, Samuel W. Lewis. The Prime Minister asserted, “Mr. Weinberger (US Defense Secretary) — and later Mr. Haig — said that the law contravenes (adversely affects) Resolution 242. Whoever says that has either not read the resolution, or has forgotten it or has not understood it. The essence of the resolution (242) is negotiation to determine agreed and recognized borders. Syria has announced that it will not conduct negotiations with us, that it does not and will not recognize us — and thus removed from Resolution 242 its essence. How, therefore, could we contravene 242? As regards the future, please be kind enough to inform the Secretary of State that the Golan Heights law will remain valid. There is no force on earth that can bring about its rescission.”
Photo Credit: Prime Minister Menahcem Begin is brought into the Knesset in a wheelchair for the vote to annex the Golan Heights.