In the Absence of Leaders, It's Up for Israelis to Make Peace

Those who drafted the referendum bill have said they think the entire people of Israel should be involved in fateful state decisions, well now is a good time to try it out.

On the eve of the vote in the Knesset on the Referendum Law about six months ago, the leader of the Opposition, Kadima’s Tzipi Livni, said that the people were not a substitute for leadership.

Livni was right. In a parliamentary regime, every few years the public delegates to its representatives the authority to make decisions in all spheres of life − first and foremost the issue of war and peace. The first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, did not ask the people whether to accept the Partition Plan. He acted according to the principle of “I don’t know what the people want but I know what the people need.”

Menachem Begin also did not ask for the voters’ approval before returning all of the Sinai peninsula to Egypt. Yitzhak Rabin made do with a modest majority in the Knesset when he signed the Oslo Accords in 1992, while Ariel Sharon rejected the settlers’ demand to hold a referendum on the withdrawal from Gaza.

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his declaration − during his speech at Bar-Ilan University − that there was no choice but to establish another state between the sea and Jordan, it seemed for a moment that Israel had a leader who was not a captive of ideology and whose hands were not bound by political fetters.

The prime minister convinced the presidents of Israel and the United States that he had relinquished his opposition to the principle of territories in return for peace. He got the government to pass a decision about temporarily freezing construction on the settlements and agreed to remove a considerable number of roadblocks from the roads of the West Bank.

However the major obstacle has been, and remains, Netanyahu’s refusal to utter the words “the borders of June 4, 1967, as a basis for a peace agreement” − wording which leaves open the possibility of exchanges of territory in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Whoever does not accept this principle by September will probably instead get the recognition, by more than 100 countries, of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders whose capital will be East Jerusalem. Without “on the basis of” and without “settlement blocs”, and without special arrangements in the Holy Basin. There is no third way.

The “peace process” as a cover for gradual annexation of the territories is over. The countries that recognize a Palestinian state will not be impressed by Netanyahu’s complaint that Palestine will be the only state in the world not to recognize Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

Netanyahu’s demand that Fatah concede its peace with Hamas in favor of peace with its neighbor is an indication mainly of hysteria. If the prime minister were genuinely interested in promoting the two-state solution, he would willingly accept Hamas’ readiness to accept the conditions of the organization that signed the Oslo agreement, which is taking steps against the use of violence and is committed to the Arab peace plan.

Who would have believed that Hamas would join a Palestinian government that is working indefatigably for international recognition of the 1967 borders as the permanent borders of Palestine ‏(and of Israel, which does not have borders‏)?

Recognition by the UN of the partition plan in September 2011 could bring Israel back into the circle of violence that began in the wake of the UN declaration on the Partition Plan of November 1947. It is hard to think of a more fateful decision than that which now faces the state of Israel.

The right-wing people who presented the draft law on the referendum explained that their initiative was designed to ensure that “a most fateful decision would be taken by the entire people.” Go ahead − now is the time to go to the people. Since there is no king in Israel, let the people decide, once and for all, whether they want an isolated, leprous state that occupies others, or a free and healthy state.