Soul-searching on Syria

If we'd given the Golan in return for peace in the 2000s, then today we'd already have bloodshed. If we had gone to bed with Assad a decade ago, today we'd be waking up with jihad.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

No one likes to admit they were wrong. I don't, either. But sometimes you have no choice.

I recently went up north for Shabbat. I spent hours just looking at the mountains of the Golan Heights as they reddened toward evening. But slowly the pure pleasure I was getting out of their amazing beauty was replaced by a deep discomfort.

I couldn't help but think what would be happening today if the ideological position I had long held - peace in return for the Golan - had been accepted. I couldn't help but think what would be happening today if Ehud Barak had not frozen before Hafez Assad in 2000, or if Ehud Olmert had not been interrupted as he faced Bashar Assad in 2008.

I have to admit that if the worldview I had championed had been applied, battalions of global jihadis would be camping near Ein Gev and there would be Al-Qaida bases on the shores of Lake Kinneret. Northern Israel and the country's water sources would be bordering this summer on an armed, extremist Islamic entity that could not be controlled.

Since reaching adulthood I believed in peace with Syria. The premises for my belief seemed rational and solid. Peace with Syria would prevent a terrible war and dismantle the array of northern forces that threatened the State of Israel. Peace with Syria would isolate Iran and deal it a restraining, strategic blow. Peace with Syria would be as durable as peace with Egypt, and surround Israel with a ring of stabilizing diplomatic arrangements. Peace with Syria would strengthen the forces of sanity in the Arab world and help form a moderate regional network that would eventually bring the Palestinians to compromise.

These were not just my premises, but the premises of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and their successors on the center-left. They were also the premises of most of the military establishment. Successive chiefs of staff believed them as did successive military intelligence heads. Meretz wasn't the "peace with Syria" party - the Israel Defense Forces was.

On an individual scale, so was I. I wrote incessantly in the newspaper and spoke on television about the need to reach a peace-for-Golan deal. I pushed for peace-with-Syria-now with all my strength. The opposing view looked unreasonable and immoral. Those opposed looked like dangerous men. I expressed fury with Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon for blocking a dialogue with Syria and blocking Israel from peace. I was convinced that one day history would condemn them for their rejectionism and treat them as it treats Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan and Yisrael Galili.

And now, everything has been upended. It's all been reversed.

If we'd had peace in the 2000s, then today we'd already have bloodshed. If we had gone to bed with Assad a decade ago, today we'd be waking up with jihad. If we had given up Katzrin and Snir, we would have terror in Dan and Dafna. Strange substances would be flowing into the Jordan River tributaries. Frequent gun battles would be breaking out at Tel Katzir and Ha'on.

The Syrian Golan would be turned into a black hole far more dangerous than the black hole of the Sinai desert. The idea of peace, which may have been correct in its time, would turn into a nightmare reality that would be difficult to tolerate. Sooner or later, Israel would have been forced to once again ascend to Tel Faher and Nafah and continue to Quneitra. But this time such an operation would bring ballistic missile barrages on Tel Aviv. The peace I had believed in and fought for would have turned into an enormous war in which it's possible thousands would have been killed.

The Golan mountains disappear in the darkness. It's time to go home.

So, does one conclude that we dare not try peace? No, we must try to obtain a realistic peace. Does one conclude that we must reconcile ourselves to the occupation? No, we must seek creative ways to end the occupation, gradually.

But carefully, friends. Modestly. And always while listening seriously to the serious warnings of those opposed, and with a sober eye on the real world in which we live.

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