All Writings
January 16, 2000

In A Referendum, The Israelis Will Choose Peace

As long as Prime Minister Barak delivers a normal peace with Syria, with iron-clad security arrangements, the Israelis will choose the path of peace even if it means a total withdrawal from the Golan Heights and a complete relocation of the settlers.

Demonstrating in Tel Aviv in early January, an estimated crowd of 100,000 Israelis voiced strong opposition to any withdrawal from the Golan. And in a poll conducted by the daily newspaper Ha'aretz during the same period, some 60 percent of Israelis said they would vote against withdrawal. That said, I believe Barak was right when he sounded a note of optimism, following his return last week to Israel from Washington. He indicated that once they are made fully aware of the far reaching advantages of secure peace with Syria, as opposed to continued hostilities and senseless destruction, a decisive majority of Israelis will support an agreement with Syria. They will support it even though it may entail heavy sacrifices (alluding to full withdrawal from the Golan and relocation of the settlers).

After 30 years of systematically equating the Golan to Israel's national security, many Israelis are uncertain about the wisdom of exchanging the Golan for what they term "an elusive peace." Their anxiety is further compounded by a barrage of misleading advocacy against withdrawal orchestrated by leaders of the opposition parties and joined by other misguided leaders from two of Barak's own coalition government parties — Israel Ba'aliya and the National Religious Party. Nevertheless, I maintain that, when the time comes, the Israelis will support a referendum that calls for peace with security in exchange for full withdrawal from the Golan. Here is why:

First, the overwhelming majority of Israelis are emotionally tired and psychologically handicapped by an abnormal state of hostile existence. National security has become a national obsession. The way Israelis think, plan, and act is framed by the uncertainty that Israel's enemies and the potential for another war impose. The majority of people want to change the national psyche from this state of constant tension and anxiety, which has sapped much of the national energy, to a state of emotional and psychological comfort, that builds on confidence and hope. Only a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, to which Syria holds the key, will give the Israelis what they have longed for over a period of two generations.

Second, peace with Syria will end, for all intents and purposes, the Israeli-Arab century-old bloodshed and hostilities. It will bring the Israeli soldiers home from the killing fields in Lebanon, where some of Israel's best young men and women have sacrificed themselves for a cause leading nowhere — a cause which has exacted a terrible national toll without any evidence of improving Israel's security since 1982. A peace with Syria will virtually neutralize most terrorist groups throughout the Middle East, and completely diminish the prospect of another Arab-Israeli war. It will isolate Israel's remaining enemies, such as Iran and Iraq, and prevent them from posing a serious future threat to Israel.

Third, peace with Syria will allow Israel to re-channel its national resources and energy toward allocating more money for education, infrastructure, health care and social welfare instead of spending billions of dollars annually on military preparedness to remain combat ready for the next war. Although Israel will have to maintain a formidable military power in the post Israeli-Syrian peace era, young Israelis, as indicated by Barak, could be enlisted in the armed forces for a shorter period of time. This will add millions of productive man-hours to the civilian sector from which both the individual and the state will benefit enormously. Israel has never been in a stronger position economically or militarily, to take a calculated risk for an historic peace. This prospect offers the Israelis a momentous hour to rise above their fears and trust themselves.

Fourth, it is not an exaggeration to suggest that peace between Israel and the rest of the Arab world will become vital, alive and mutually rewarding only with Syria in the peace fold. Without Syria it will, at best, remain cold and lame. Israel will be denied an historic opportunity to reach out to the rest of the Arab world. Instead of establishing trade, commercial and cultural ties with Arab and Muslim countries from north Africa to south east Asia, Israel will be rejected and further isolated. Renewed tension with Syria is bound to dramatically slow the flow of capital to Israel. Peace, on the other hand, could make Israel a regional financial center, one of the major economic powers in a global economy. No one understands this better than Israel's business community.

Fifth, Israeli-Syrian peace will inevitably further enhance American-Israeli ties and raise strategic/military cooperation to a new level. The United States has invested heavily in Israel's economic well being and security needs. In the process, Israel has become a major military power and a critical ally to the United States. Peace with Syria will further enhance a U.S. – Israel strategic partnership, while bringing nearly all of the Arab states into the American orbit. This will change the dynamics of American strategy in the Middle East as well as the future well being and national security of Israel. The Israelis are too savvy politically to forfeit such a chance.

What the Israelis will choose in a referendum, they will choose for their children. This is why they will opt for the path of reason, of peace and security. Deep in their hearts, they know that the alternative will inevitably plunge Israel into an endless state of hostilities and senseless sacrifices. In a continuing state of war with Syria, Israel will become its own hostage — in a constant state of siege. But with peace, Israel could fulfill its biblical prophecy and become truly "a light onto other nations." I do not believe the Israelis will squander this unprecedented opportunity.