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
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
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.