Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Teves 5760 - December 22, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Syria and Lebanon as a Package Deal

The negotiations with Syria have begun, but no one knows how they will end. Least informed are the millions of people who will be affected by the outcome. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is extremely concerned about informational leaks and chose to keep almost all information about his plans secret from everyone but a few very trusted advisors. Even the Cabinet knows almost nothing except the very vague hopes that have been expressed in the public media reports.

Even though Barak can keep the public in the dark for now, he will have to explain himself to the voters before any agreements will take effect since he is almost irreversibly committed to holding a referendum about any eventual treaty. Barak has consistently promised, since well before the election, that he will hold a public referendum on any agreement about the Golan and, even though there is currently no provision in Israeli law for any referendum, no one doubts that the necessary legislation will be passed and that the legal and administrative machinery necessary to hold such a referendum will be set up.

Virtually all details of this vote are currently in dispute, starting from the wording of the question and including the way the information campaign that leads up to the vote will be financed and even who exactly will vote. Most observers expect that there will be some sort of public financing of the campaign, though who will be spending the money is very unclear. It may be distributed according to party lines, in which case the Likud will probably be in charge of the campaign for the side against approval of any agreement.

So few details are known that it is very difficult to even imagine what the exact question is that will be put to the public. Though important questions like the exact wording remain uncertain, the broad strokes are pretty predictable.

Right now the outcome of such a vote seems very hard to guess. From all the polls it is clear that there is considerable opposition to giving up the Golan Heights.

Barak's likely strategy is to reach an agreement that will allow Israel to abandon its occupation of Lebanon in addition to giving back the Golan Heights to Syria. Barak apparently will make every effort to tie the agreement on the Golan together with an agreement on Lebanon, and present both to the people as a package deal. Thus, approval of the deal with Syria will bring the army out of south Lebanon and a failure of the proposal will ensure that the army continues to remain in Lebanon.

This will give the agreement a much better chance of approval. There is much more public support for leaving Lebanon than for leaving the Golan Heights, and many will be reluctant to jeopardize a resolution of the situation in Lebanon, even if it also means giving up the Golan Heights. It appears to be Barak's strategy to present the public with a package deal that a lot of people -- even many who support a continued Israel presence on the Golan -- will find very difficult to reject out of hand.

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