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Back to Syrian track?

Op-ed: With Palestinian track going nowhere, return to ‘Syria first’ approach seems natural

Published: 01.02.11, 18:07 / Israel Opinion

Israel’s political Left has been living in a complete delusion. Ever since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech, where he officially recognized what is known as the “two-state solution,” leftists are convinced that the dispute over territories and peace had been decided in their favor; that is, the entire country endorses Peace Now these days, either openly or covertly.

 

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Well, wrong. Most Israelis are indeed willing to reconcile themselves to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, yet the state they are thinking about is not much different than the current Palestinian Authority in geographical, political and military terms.

 

If you ask in the polls how many Israelis are willing to endorse the evacuation of some 150,000 to 200,000 settlers from Judea and Samaria, IDF withdrawal from bases in the Jordan Rift Valley, the deployment of Palestinian police officers from Qalqiliya to Kfar Saba, a new border in Jerusalem and the turning of the territories into a foreign land that absorbs hundreds of thousands of militant refugees from camps in Lebanon, you’ll see how the support for the “two-state solution” shrinks towards one-digit figures.

 

The gap between what the Palestinian public understands as the “state of Palestine” and what the Israeli public understands as a “Palestinian state” is huge; the same label is used on two wholly different products.

 

With some half a million Jewish Israelis living beyond the June 1967 borders, the controversy over the territories was not decided in favor of the political Left; rather, it was decided in favor of the settlement movement. This movement is in constant momentum: Soon, the first Jewish great grandson will be born in Kiryat Arba, if he hasn’t been born already.

 

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon realized this when he forcefully evacuated a few thousand settlers from the Gaza Strip, thereby showing Israeli and global opinion the immense difficulty any Israeli government would face if and when it decides to multiply the extent of withdrawal by 20. Even then, the Palestinians won’t be satisfied. They want their tiny country to be free of Israelis. Another interim agreement is out of the question for the PA.

 

New attitude to Syria

As he seeks a way to break the impasse, Netanyahu may therefore turn to the Syrian track. Go with Syria first. Past prime ministers have tried to take the Damascus route, yet they lacked the courage to take this road all the way to its conclusion. They also lacked popular support. In the past, Israelis were unimpressed by the Syrian danger and viewed the Golan as a quiet, safe region. Why should we return it and evacuate its residents?

 

Yet this is no longer the case. Lebanon’s accelerated Islamization, Syria’s alliance with Iran, and the nuclear facility it built changed the above attitude. Today, it is easy to explain to Israel’s public opinion the crucial strategic importance of a peace deal with Syria. The Golan Heights were never an inseparable part of the Greater Israel vision, and IDF troops on the peak of Mount Hermon won’t be able to protect the state from Iranian and/or Lebanese missiles.

 

A peace treaty with Syria seems to be worth its full price, including a Syrian foothold in what used to be the east bank of the Sea of Galilee, the Kinneret. For that reason, the defense establishment supports a full peace deal with Syria even in exchange for full withdrawal from the Golan. There is no need to even draft such agreement: Unsigned copies are kept at the Prime Minister’s Office. Ehud Barak did not sign it. Ehud Olmert would have signed it. And what about Bibi?

 

I do not know whether Netanyahu already sent out feelers and embarked on secret contacts with the Syrian administration. I would not be surprised to hear that he did: It’s so obvious and crucial for Israel’s future, and it is greatly commensurate with the worldview endorsed by Netanyahu, who sees Iran as the main existential threat faced by Israel. Moreover, most Golan residents would evacuate their homes peacefully in the framework of a peace deal. They’re patriots.

 

There is only one big problem with a political move vis-à-vis Syria at this time: It requires leadership and courage, two characteristic that Prime Minister Netanyahu is conspicuously short on.

 

 

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