Dr. Boaz Ganor.
(photo credit: Courtesy of Gady Dagon)
Obvious to any scholar, yet not to the Israeli government, is the fact that the
current status quo poses a threat to Israel. The country’s clock is ticking, and
counting not decades or even years, but months and weeks. At times it seems as
if the prime minister’s separatist stance has led the government and Israel into
a cul-de-sac. Perhaps worse – the lack of policy from a government incapable of
making hard choices and adrift in turbulent waters confronts Israel with a
strategic, and even existential, threat.
politicians, philosophers, experts and former senior officials attempt to fill
the political void with political initiatives – from an immediate settlement to
a long-term interim agreement, and from annexing the territories to an immediate
recognition of Palestinian statehood. Every initiative has its merits. Before
them all stands a reluctant government that hides behind the current processes
taking root in the entire Arab world; for what is the purpose of settling with
leaders who will soon be overthrown? Does a peace agreement with a Palestinian
technocratic government have any validity when that government includes an Osama
bin Laden-supporting Hamas that refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist? So
the Israeli government can now blame others for its inaction; Hamas, the Muslim
Brotherhood, the masses at Tahrir square and so on.
An old proverb states
that the work of the righteous is done at the hands of others. These others,
however, are the international community; the UN and Israel’s former friends,
which, lacking a serious Israeli initiative, will eventually dictate the
characteristics of the future agreement and impose it on the country
It is likely that Israel’s existential security concerns
will not be their top priority.
HOW CAN this predicament be solved? How
can a real political initiative be presented, and the associated risks
sidestepped at the same time? How can the world be convinced of Israel’s
peaceful intentions while the risks and pitfalls of the current regional
landscape are avoided? The answer to all of the above is a
For one thing, a referendum can promote a peace agreement.
Why? Because the willingness of both parties to make concessions will increase
if decision-makers know that these concessions will be brought before the public
prior to ratification.
Furthermore, a referendum is necessary due to the
reality on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, and to past experience with
regional processes. Israel must demand that any agreement enjoy the backing of a
Palestinian popular majority in a referendum, and so be an agreement between
peoples, not between temporary leaders. The people of Israel must know that a
settlement which involves risky territorial concessions and potential security
threats is being made with the entire Palestinian people or, at the very least,
the majority of it.
As for the Palestinian arena, the hard reality is
that no Palestinian leader (and certainly not Mahmoud Abbas) is capable of
enforcing an agreement with Israel – with all its inherent obligations – on the
Palestinian population without the legitimacy of being backed by a referendum. A
referendum should be open to all Palestinians in both the West Bank and the Gaza
If certain political movements or organizations choose to boycott
the referendum, this will not dent its obligatory nature. The Palestinians may
elect to include or exclude the Palestinian Diaspora. If the Palestinian public
rejects the agreement, then the true face of Palestinian society will be
A referendum is necessary on the Israeli side as
The current situation in the West Bank, where a handful of settlers
systematically break the law and challenge the authority of the state and the
IDF while preparing to forcefully resist, perhaps with firearms, any decision to
evict them makes it impossible for any Israeli government to implement a peace
settlement with the Palestinians without the moral backing of a referendum,
especially if it includes withdrawing from vast territories in the West Bank.
The settlers will not accept the implications of a peace agreement without such
a referendum. The IDF will be unable to implement the agreement and force it on
violent extremists without the legitimacy of a referendum, and the government
will not be able to ratify a future peace agreement without a
A referendum is therefore a vital necessity in any future
peace agreement, despite its sectoral limitations and the difficulties involved.
It must be a cornerstone of any initiative or plan to settle the dispute between
Israel and the Palestinians.The writer is founder and executive director
of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary