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Israel should be grateful to Syrian President Bashar Assad. It is he who heads a most troublesome regime, who has instigated discord in Lebanon, who has ties with Iran, who supports Hezbollah, who hosts Hamas and who is trying to develop nuclear weapons. It is he, of all statesmen, who is bringing Israel close to its moment of truth. For the first time in its history, Israel must face the fateful, clear and unambiguous choice - peace or real estate.

Anwar Sadat also placed this choice before us, but at that time real security considerations were still involved. In this new technological age, when the danger of missiles from Tehran and Damascus lurks for Israel, it is no longer possible to disguise real-estate considerations with security arguments - especially as peace with Egypt has proven that the best guarantee of Israel's security is peace with its neighbors.

For that reason, we must be grateful to Assad. Because from now on we will no longer be able to make do with hollow talk about how "we are looking forward to peace" and how we are ready to hold negotiations with any Arab leader. Yesterday's slogans about the Golan such as "the country's eyes" and "strategic depth" are also no longer relevant. If Syria wants to attack Israel, it can do so with or without the Golan Heights. The issue of sovereignty is also not a matter of discussion - the entire world has passed judgment: The Golan belongs to Syria.

Thank God it is also not possible to talk about "the rights of our forefathers" when it comes to the Golan Heights. If the Golan belongs to us, well then so does the Gilead and all of Jordan - everybody considers these claims hallucinatory. The choice facing us right now, therefore, is between open spaces for hiking, wineries, bed-and-breakfasts and magnificent grazing pastures on the one hand, and the chance for a strategic peace with our most dangerous neighbor on the other.

If Israel rejects the opportunity it might get now, if the government misses this chance as well - if indeed it is a chance - then we all, both Israel and the rest of the world, will know that this is not a peace-seeking country but a real-estate-seeking country, not to mention a country that provoked war. If a handful of right-wing extremists succeed in inducing fear in the majority government, if the majority government is not successful in passing a decision favoring peace at the expense of real estate, if the Israeli mainstream does not wake up from its deep slumber and immediately begin acting with energy and determination to get the government to withdraw from the Golan in return for peace, then we will know that the extreme right rules this land.

No referendum is necessary. Just as in Israel no referendum is held on other fateful issues, from the health basket to the minimum wage, from the separation of state and religion to the make-up of the country's legal system, there is no place for a referendum on the Golan Heights, just as there was no reason to hold one on the future of Sinai or the Gaza Strip. Those who favor a referendum have only one aim in mind: to gain time, to miss the opportunity and to spread fear about the dangers peace poses. The Israeli government enjoys a firm majority - now it must do its duty and try to bring about peace.

This is particularly true regarding the prime minister. Guilty of one pointless war, treading water in fruitless and pointless negotiations over a "shelf agreement" with half the Palestinian people, Ehud Olmert is obliged to ask himself what he wants to leave behind after his term in office. Only that war? A "shelf agreement" not worth the paper it is written on? Is that what he wants as his legacy? Is that what he will take with him to the elections?

One of his most senior colleagues recently said that an agreement with Syria would be a "boutique agreement," meaning everything would be clear from the start, fixed-price. Only a decision has to be taken. Between a "boutique agreement" and a "shelf agreement", the former is preferable. An agreement with Syria will push forward an agreement with the Palestinians. They, too, will not wish to miss the peace train. The negotiations would be concluded in a short time if the sides are indeed interested in peace. Let us then finish with the emissaries and the errands; everything is clear in advance.

And perhaps, heaven forbid, it turns out that Assad is merely fooling with us. Let us then give him a challenge - us to him - instead of him challenging us. We have nothing to lose. We have had enough of pulling faces every time there is an opportunity. Think about a border where there is peace with Syria, imagine dinner in Damascus. Conjure up in your mind a trip to Europe by car via Syria and Turkey, and allow yourself to forget the right wing's intimidations.

It is possible that even after peace is established, a "travel advisory" will be issued by the National Security Council's anti-terrorism bureau, warning against traveling there, as is the custom before every holiday. So what? At least we will know we have the option of the world's best humus in the Damascus casbah. Is that not better than the option of wine from the occupied and looted Golan Heights? Does that sound hallucinatory? No more than the intimidations by the right.