Say Yes to Syria

If Israel does not agree to seriously negotiate with Syria, Assad might conclude that Israel only understands force, and the Golan Heights could turn into the next war zone.

When you are a new and inexperienced candidate for prime minister, the plans that you present to the public soar. Out of excessive enthusiasm you promise to solve the problem of poverty, achieve quiet on the borders and make Israel into a country "where it is fun to live."

But then you attain the office and discover that the "reality imp" is dancing on your desk. He makes it clear to you that despite your victory in the elections, your government is shaky, and it is not certain that you will even arrive safely at the next session of the Knesset. He laughs in your face when he encounters your far-reaching diplomatic plans and your proposals for containing poverty.

One morning the reality imp whispers in your ear: If you want to live, throw aside all your revolutionary plans and concentrate on only one thing: your political survival. And if you ask him, 'Is it for this that I have arrived at this important position?' he will reply: Look what happened to Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, who wanted to solve fundamental problems. This is exactly what is happening now to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

He has abandoned all his big plans and he has no agenda, apart from his political survival. To shore up his shaky government he is looking for an ally in the shape of Yisrael Beiteinu MK Avigdor Lieberman, a step that will give him the dose of oxygen needed for his continued existence. The price is clear: a freeze on diplomatic moves.

The convergence plan - the sole reason for his victory in the in the elections - has been defined by Olmert as irrelevant. The evacuation of the illegal outposts has been postponed indefinitely. And, if this were not enough, he became a staunch peace refuser when he rejected entirely all of Syrian President Bashar Assad's attempts to open negotiations on peace in return for the Golan Heights.

Immediately after the Six-Day War, then prime minister Levi Eshkol said that the territories were only a deposit that we would be prepared to return in exchange for full peace, because peace is the only guarantee of security. But within a few weeks we "sobered up" and fell in love with the territories.

At one time we saw United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 (territories in return for peace) as a major achievement. Today Assad is adopting the resolution, and Olmert is not only rejecting it, but he is also publicly scorning it and saying with typical Olmertian arrogance: "The Golan Heights will remain in our hands for all eternity." What alternative is he leaving Assad?

Every prime minister until now understood that a peace agreement with Syria is a strategic asset. Therefore Rabin, Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu conducted secret and indirect negotiations with the Syrian president - which did not ripen into an agreement. When Barak presented his plan for a withdrawal from the Golan in return for peace to the top echelon of the Israel Defense Forces, Gabi Ashkenazi, who was GOC Northern Command at that time and is now the director general of the Defense Ministry, said that he would help him market the plan to the public.

Israel's most dangerous enemy is Iran, which aspires to achieve nuclear capability. Syria has an alliance with Iran. Cutting it off is a definite Israeli interest. Let us not forget that Syria is ruled by a secular (Alawite) regime that is fighting the Muslim Brotherhood. From our perspective, an Islamic fundamentalist takeover of the Arab world is a possibility that is far worse than the entire Assad dynasty.

Olmert is accusing Syria of supporting Palestinian terror and providing weapons to Hezbollah. The accusations are correct, but it is clear that one of the achievements of negotiations with Syria has to be a total cessation of support for terror.

If we do nothing, the situation will only degenerate. One day Assad could conclude that force is the only thing that Israel understands and the "quiet" Golan is liable to become a new terror arena. Syria has rockets that are targeted on every corner of Israel, including Dimona. The nuclear test that has just been made by North Korea stirs the imagination to even scarier scenarios. Therefore, Olmert is not entitled to listen to the reality imp's advice and concentrate only on his own political survival. He must at least respond to the Syrian challenge. This is crucial for us.