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Operation `Peace for the Winery`
By: Gideon Levy
1 October 2006

What do you call a rejection of peace that is liable to lead to war? What is the term for a state that is not even willing to sit at the negotiating table with the head of a state who publicly issues an explicit peace proposal? If there is a positive angle to the Israeli refusal to consider the Syrian president`s proposals, it is the exposure of the bitter truth: Israel does not want peace with Syria - period. No linguistic trick or diplomatic contortion can change this unequivocal fact. We will no longer be able to declare that we are seeking peace with our neighbors; we are not turning toward them for peace. In the Middle East, a new rejectionist axis has formed: Israel and the United States, which is saying `no` to Syria. Not only is Iran endangering peace in the region, Israel is too. It would be best for us to admit this.

Common sense makes it difficult to understand and the heart refuses to accept how it happened that an important Arab state offered to forge a peace accord with us and we arrogantly rebuffed it. `It`s not the right time,` the statesmen in Jerusalem say. With Syria, it is not the right time. With the Palestinians, it is not the right partner. And when is the right time? Only after the next war. This type of refusal, which is liable to lead to another cycle of bloodshed, is a crime.

Behind the latest Israeli refusal is cowardice and behind this cowardice is the prime minister. Ehud Olmert knows very well that Israel will ultimately withdraw from the Golan Heights, but he lacks the courage to lead this move. Just like his predecessor, Ehud Barak, who was on the verge of an agreement with Syria, Olmert also lacks the most important quality required of an Israeli leader - courage.

Especially after the fiasco of the war in Lebanon, with his public standing at a nearly unsalvageable low, one might have expected that Olmert would try to lead a bold move - a relatively easy one when compared to peace with the Palestinians. But Olmert is A-F-R-A-I-D. Perhaps he is afraid of Israeli protestors outside his home, or maybe of America turning up its nose. These are not sufficient reasons to refrain from putting Assad`s intentions to the test.

Because what do we have to lose? Let`s assume that Assad is not ready to live up to his words. Let`s assume that he is not capable of signing an agreement with Israel. Why not challenge him? What hair would fall from Israel`s head if Olmert would take up the Syrian gauntlet and tell Assad: Let`s meet. Instead, Zhdanov-Olmert forbids his ministers from speaking in favor of negotiations and even threatens to expel them from the government. Olmert is more cowardly than Barak: He is not even ready to come to the negotiating table. History will remember him, therefore, as someone who torpedoed a possible peace accord that could have changed the face of the Middle East. This is a more severe failure than embarking on the futile war in Lebanon. When the next war with Syria breaks out - a war that will be immeasurably more difficult than the one with Lebanon - we will remember well who is responsible for it. There will be no need for a commission of inquiry on this.

The Golan Heights are desolate. Perhaps `The people are with the Golan,` but the people stopped coming to the Golan Heights a long time ago. During Rosh Hashanah, hikers kept away from this gorgeous piece of land. Anyone who visited there saw roads without any human presence, eternally rocky fields and some settlements whose fate was decreed long ago. So why should we keep the Golan Heights at the price of war? Is it conceivable that because of territorial lustfulness we will bring about another war, the `Peace for the Winery` war? Are a successful winery and prosperous factory for mineral water enough to affix us to an occupied land, which has no value except for its grapes and clear waters? After all, in the era of missiles, no one can speak seriously any more about the Golan Heights as a `strategic asset.`

The Golan Heights is occupied land, despite the annexation law we enacted, which no country in the world has recognized, and its Israeli settlers are like any other settlers. Who decided that a resident of Itamar was an `extremist` settler, while a resident of Merom Golan was a different kind of settler - one of us? A hidden hand determined that in Israeli consciousness the Golan Heights was not occupied and its residents were not, like other settlers, in violation of international law. But this is a ridiculous word game we play with ourselves. Just as peace seekers in Israel should boycott products originating in the West Bank settlements, the same should apply to the products of the Golan Heights. They originate in a land that is not ours. Questions of morality that still surface here and there in regard to the act of occupying the West Bank and Gaza Strip are not on the agenda at all when it comes to the Golan Heights. Who remembers that about 100,000 people who lived in the Golan Heights were forced to flee their homes in 1967? The ruins of their homes are still on the Golan Heights and they live in refugee camps near Damascus. They, too, long for their land, while the residents who remained live under Israeli occupation, albeit a relatively comfortable occupation.

In a situation in which the prime minister is too cowardly to respond to the Syrian proposal, a cry of protest should have arisen from those who wish to prevent the next war, especially after the last one. If the IDF reservists and the rest of the protest movements want to also do something to prevent the next war and not just rummage through the previous one, they should issue a determined cry to say `yes` to peace with Syria. Syria`s conditions are clear and simple, and even just - peace for land - and the impression is that there is a partner in Damascus. A meeting with the foreign minister of Oman is good for making headlines and a secret meeting with a Saudi prince sparks the imagination, but peace must be made with Syria and the Palestinians. Syria said yes, Israel said no. For reasons we know and remember well, there is no better time than Yom Kippur to think about this.

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