The practical and legal transformation of the Golan Heights from an occupied territory to an effective part of the state of Israel is beginning to take shape, although hesitantly and not without confusion.
The Interior Ministry, which under the annexation law passed by the parliament last week is responsible for implementing the change, was surprised as much as anybody else by Prime Minister Menachem Begin's decision to push the law through in an afternoon's whirlwind of debate and roll calls.
But amid the cacophony of international condemnation of the annexation and the repercussions of U.S. punitive sanctions, Israeli officials are beginning to carry out the transition of the Golan Heights from military to civilian rule just as if it were a part of Israel proper.
The Interior Ministry has appointed its northern district representative, Israel Koenig, to head an interministerial committee to phase out the military government that has administered the Golan Heights since the Israeli Army captured it from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and to replace it with the same form of government that exists across the pre-1967 border.
Koenig has been put in charge of establishing regional governing councils in the Golan Heights. He will supervise tax rates and local budgets and direct such services as education, health, welfare, sanitation, water, road maintenance, parks and fire protection, officials said. Similar councils control such services throughout Israel.
On the legal side, Justice Minister Moshe Nissim has signed orders establishing two Israeli magistrate courts in the Golan, one in the Arab village of Masada and another in the Jewish development town of Katzrin. Nissim also signed regulations extending the jurisdiction of the Nazareth district courts to the Golan Heights so that it can hear appeals from the magistrates' courts and handle cases involving more serious violations of Israeli law.
Army patrols have been replaced by Israeli police and members of the border police; Israeli traffic regulations are being enforced and Israeli driver's licenses issued, and Israeli housing codes are going into effect.
The annexation bill in its legal terminology applies Israeli "law, jurisdiction and administration" to the Golan Heights, which for the last 14 years has been governed by an Israeli military government under a blend of military law, British Mandate-era emergency defense regulations that were adopted by Israel and some provisions of basic Israeli law that were applied to the occupied territory by order of the military governor in 1969.
Unlike the occupied West Bank, where Jordanian law was carried over after Israel captured the territory from Jordan in 1967, the Golan Heights did not retain Syrian law because most of its residents fled the area after the Syrian Army's retreat. There currently are about 12,500 Druzes, members of a breakaway Islamic sect with secret tenets; about 800 Alawite Moslems, and 6,500 Jewish settlers.
"There was a legal vacuum after the 1967 war--no judges, no advocates, no Syrian law books and nothing that could be used as law to enable us to maintain order and a smooth functioning of society. It was not practical to apply Syrian law in the Golan. Who would apply it, the military governor?" said Elyakin Rubenstein, legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry.
Koenig will also head an Interior Ministry committee that will deal with population registration in the Golan and the distribution of Israeli identity cards to all residents, including Arabs.
The Israeli government has not spelled out its position on whether the Arabs can retain their Syrian citizenship, although officials emphasized that they are not being forced to accept Israeli citizenship by accepting the identity cards. Rubenstein said he assumes that Golan Arabs can retain their "Syrian nationality" the same way many of the approximately 100,000 Arabs of East Jerusalem, which was annexed in 1967, have retained their Jordanian citizenship even though they have been issued identity cards by the Israeli government. He said, however, that the question has not been fully resolved.
The issue has been a controversial one since September 1980, when Israel's parliament passed a law enabling the Interior Ministry to grant Israeli citizenship to residents of the Golan Heights who apply. Aimed specifically at the Druzes, the law opened angry divisions in the Golan Heights, even within families, and led to clashes with the military government.
About 2,000 Druzes accepted Israeli citizenship, but under intense pressure from local religious leaders, all but about 150 had changed their minds by the time the annexation bill was adopted.
Supporters of the Druze Zionist Organization in the Golan Heights, who have long advocated annexation, said they will gladly accept Israeli citizenship. But pro-Syrian Druzes have vowed to refuse the identity cards, apparently partly out of nationalism and partly because of lingering belief that some day there could be a political resolution of the Middle East conflict that could return the Golan to Syria, even though the Israeli government has declared it will never leave the territory.
Beyond the ambiguity surrounding the legal status of the residents is more uncertainty about the larger question of whether the Golan Heights has been annexed according to international law.
Normally under international law, any expression of the conquerer's will to treat the territory as its own suffices for sovereignty. Begin and other officials repeatedly have said the Golan Heights is now part of Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel), but they have carefully avoided saying it has been annexed or is part of the state of Israel.
Israel has never officially recognized the pre-1967 Syrian border as an international boundary, and instead has regarded it as a cease-fire line established by the 1949 armistice.
"The question was open for negotiations and the Syrians rejected negotiations, so for us there never was a border," Rubenstein said. "The armistice agreement did not speak of borders, it spoke of armistice lines. The whole question of annexation is not fully clear. It has not been defined by international law."
When reminded that the language of last week's bill applying Israeli law to the heights is identical to that of the June 1967 parliamentary bill annexing East Jerusalem, and that Israel's supreme court has interpreted the 1967 bill as annexation and an assertion of Israeli sovereignty, Rubenstein noted that one justice in a 1969 supreme court case said in an opinion that he did not exclude the possibility that Israeli law could be applied to an occupied territory without actually annexing it, although the justice said he personally felt that annexation was intended.
"If there are court cases in the Golan, I assume the court will interpret it on the basis of developments. Somebody might come up with this precedent, but I wouldn't attempt to see the outcome of this case," Rubenstein said.