Not only am I in favor of a national referendum on the final status agreement with the Palestinians, but I expect the Palestinians to put the peace agreement with Israel to a referendum as well.
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In light of the concessions that will be required of both sides, it's crucial that neither side give the impression they are bluffing or trying to deceive the other. We will want to know, for example, if Hamas' Gaza will be a part of the agreement or a separate, extremist entity that continues to war with Israel. The Palestinians will want to know whether the Israeli government is capable of giving up parts of the West Bank territories and to overcome our own "Hamas."
Ehud Barak – at the moment a private citizen who leads the kind of lifestyle that includes waiters in white gloves serving him dinner at home – believes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is serious about the diplomatic initiative. Others believe that neither Netanyahu nor his opinionated wife support the concessions. His associates liken Bibi to the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir – that is, they believe he wants to buy time.
Some claim that a referendum is undemocratic, superfluous and even dangerous because it will create a precedent that will undermine our parliamentary form of government. Because what will negotiations be worth if the government's decision is rejected in a referendum? And what will be the fate of a government whose decisions are overturned in a referendum? Will it be forced to resign, or perhaps to move the election up?
All these questions are still premature. At the moment, it is merely the negotiations about the negotiations that are slated to begin. The designated appointment of Martin Indyk as the person in charge of the negotiations is surprising. As someone who was an ambassador to Israel and a political ally of Dennis Ross, he is not considered a brilliant diplomat. He is more on the level of Isaac Molho, not someone with the authority to lead new initiatives. The present government will not like his neutral position, even if it is not authoritative.
If we are talking here about an historic event, and the negotiations are supposed to produce a single yes-or-no decision, then the situation requires that the negotiators be leaders of the first rank. On the Israeli side, Bibi as prime minister is the one who must lead – not second-rate envoys. The Palestinian side must be represented by Mahmoud Abbas as the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization. And, in the United States, this is a wonderful opportunity for U.S. President Barack Obama to prove he deserves his Nobel Peace Prize.
In other words, we must return to a summit of the size and importance of Camp David, which brought the leaders of America, Egypt and Israel together for non-stop negotiations until the historic peace agreement was signed with Egypt. U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his aides were present for the entire summit, all 13 days of it, up through the signing of the draft of the historic peace agreement with Egypt.
At the time, President Jimmy Carter and his staff came with ideas and alternatives, and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin said everything that was on their minds: Sadat demanded that Israel pay compensation for all the damage it had caused by bombing Egypt. Begin threatened to hold a referendum among world Jewry regarding the evacuation of the Rafah Salient settlements.
In the end, Begin conditioned the evacuation on Knesset approval, and even agreed to include a paragraph in the agreement recognizing the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. Without the actual, physical presence of President Carter and of Begin and his ministers, nothing would have been achieved. Begin was even convinced by then Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan to agree that all the issues would be on the table, including Jerusalem. Jerusalem? Begin was horrified, but Dayan's rational reaction was: "Yes, they will demand Jerusalem, and we'll say no. That's the nature of negotiations."
The Americans must also be included, because they are both paying and serving as guarantors for any agreement that is ultimately reached, including regarding territories that will be demilitarized or evacuated.
Bibi. Abu Mazen. Obama. This is an historic event, and it's important that both peoples in both states have the right to decide whether they will say yes or no.