Israel Lacks Consensus on Golan Withdrawal

By Ben-Meir, Alon | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), February 9, 1994 | Go to article overview

Israel Lacks Consensus on Golan Withdrawal


Ben-Meir, Alon, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


A strong Israeli public consensus in support of withdrawal from the Golan Heights is critical to any Israeli-Syrian agreement. That consensus is currently lacking.

President Hafez Assad and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin must work separately and together to sway the Israeli public in that direction. Otherwise, it is unlikely that Israel and Syria will reach an agreement any time soon.

In Israel, as in many other democracies, public opinon plays a very direct and crucial role in the government's decision making process. Rabin has done poorly in educating the public on the need and rationale for paying a "painful price" for peace. Instead, he has left the field wide open to continued onslaughts by right-wing opposition groups led by the Likud against the government's "misguided" policy.

Likud has been successful in galvanizing public opinion against extensive withdrawal, effectively tying Rabin's hands at the negotiating table. Moreover, Rabin's inability to implement the first phase of Israel's agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization has left many Israelis unsure of their government's direction, further deepening their cynicism and distrust of the whole process.

Rabin's idea of putting any Golan agreement with Syria to a referendum is misleading. Although a referendum could buy Rabin some time, stifle right-wing opposition and put pressure on Assad to be more forthcoming, it still is not a substitute for cultivating an Israeli public consensus and confidence. It is, in fact, an escape. Rabin justifies the referendum on the ground that the extent of the projected withdrawal will exceed what the Labor Party's platform stipulates; hence the need for a public referendum.

Peace with Syria is not a Labor or Likud issue; it is an national issue charged with psychological-security implications that affect most Israelis. Rabin should prepare the Israeli public for the best possible deal he can strike with Syria. He must tell the Israelis that with today's advanced technologies, strategic territory holds a considerably diminished value.

Only peace with normal Arab-Israeli relations plus a credible military deterrence will provide Israel with long-term security. The Israelis need to know that there are no other viable options and that withdrawal from the Golan is the ultimate price for peace. A referendum that will reject such an agreement with Syria is counterproductive and even dangerous, and a referendum that would endorse such an agreement is not necessary.

Syrian officials reject an Israeli referendum on Syrian territory, contending that it is against international law and is inconsistent with U. …

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