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Was Netanyahu, then, implying that only a stupid people would reject ceding East Jerusalem or the Golan? If so, he was either insulting the people he was purporting to praise or ignoring repeated polls that show the opposite of what he suggested.
For instance, a poll last April found Israelis—by a 69%-13% margin—saying a division of Jerusalem would lead to generations of conflict rather than peace. And a 2008 poll found about two-thirds of Israelis opposing a peace deal with Syria that would entail a retreat from the Golan.
Far from being stupid, those positions are well grounded in experience. The division of Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967 created a nightmare of sniper fire and constant danger for Israelis in West Jerusalem, while all Israelis were—in direct contravention of a UN-brokered agreement—denied access to Jewish holy places in the city.
And in that same period, Syrian control of the Golan created a nightmare of frequent shelling for Israelis living below the Heights. Last year an exhaustive study by Maj.-Gen. Giora Eiland (a shorter statement by him is on YouTube), formerly head of Israel’s National Security Council, concluded that:
Israel does not possess a plausible solution to its security needs without the Golan Heights…. changing circumstances, both strategic and operative, have rendered Israel’s forfeiture of the Golan today an even more reckless act.
One might ask: if these issues are so clear and the public’s position is known, why the need for the referendum law in the first place?
The question answers itself. The past decade has seen Israeli prime ministers—Barak in 2000, Ehud Olmert in 2008—make reckless offers to the Palestinians (and in Barak’s case, Syria as well) for which they had no mandate and that were opposed by the public. Barak’s coalition collapsed as a result. In those cases, the Syrians didn’t even deign to answer, and the Palestinians rejected both offers.
The risk remains, though, that future Israeli prime ministers—smitten by the peace bug and the desire for world accolades—will make similar irresponsible offers in the future. Although it does not seem likely, it cannot be ruled out that at some point the other side will accept one of them.
If so, the referendum law ensures that such an offer will genuinely reflect the will of the Israeli people—or, if it does not, will be stopped in its tracks.
Nothing could be more democratic. And nothing can better protect Israel from the whims of its sometimes-irresponsible leaders.
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