Barak has promised a referendum on any agreement he signs with Syria. Selling peace with Syria to the Israeli public will be an arduous task. In a recent poll taken by the prominent Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, 54 percent of Israelis said they would oppose a full withdrawal from the Golan--Syria's most basic demand. Although Israel holds no ideological claims to the land, Israelis of all political stripes have grown emotionally attached to the Golan Heights. The territory has been part of Israel since 1967 and more than 17,00 Israelis live there today. The best wine in Israel comes from the Golan and its snow-capped mountains are the country's only site for skiing. After touring the Golan Heights myself this past summer, I understood why its stunning bluffs have become so dear to the Israeli consciousness. For Barak, persuading his own people that peace is worth ceding the Golan may prove as difficult as negotiating the agreement itself.
The great paradox here is that Syria wants peace with Israel for reasons that have little to do with Israel, and that Israel wants peace with Syria for reasons that have little to do with Syria. Assad wants peace with Israel so it can improve ties with the U.S. and reap the benefits of Western investment. Israel seeks peace with Syria so that it can normalize relations with other Middle Eastern states and focus its military strategy on Iran. A peace treaty between Israel and Syria will therefore more likely resemble an expedient divorce from war rather than a marriage to peace in the spirit of reconciliation.
David P. Honig was a member of the Class of 1999 and is currently working at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.