By Dr. Aaron Lerner

[May 28 , 1999] Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak, by setting aside the destructive finger-pointing and labeling that poisoned the political atmosphere, provides the national camp with an unprecedented opportunity to air its views. This is not just a chance to argue for the sake of the history books. A Gallup poll this week sponsored by Independent Media Review & Analysis (IMRA) provides clear evidence that the national camp can significantly influence the national debate.

For the last seven years, more broadcast time and column inches have been spent on delegitimizing the national camp than addressing its message. But with Barak's election it appears that has changed. And when unhampered by the 'extremist' label, the national camp has a powerful message to share.

The National Union's Michael Kleiner told me this week of plans to get the national camp's message out via various forums - both at the grassroots level and through existing structures. But do logical arguments matter? Aren't the various elements in society, as popular wisdom claims, locked into their positions come what may? IMRA commissioned a Gallup poll of adult Jews this Wednesday evening to put this theory to the test.

While earlier polls simply asked people if they support or oppose withdrawals, this survey, regarding the implementation of additional Wye withdrawals before the final-status talks, brought several factors to the attention of the respondents:

* Ehud Barak has set red lines regarding Jerusalem (keeping it united under Israeli sovereignty), the Jordan Valley, and settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria (under Israeli sovereignty) and the right of return of refugees (no return of the '48 refugees to within the State of Israel's borders).

* The Palestinians have rejected Barak's red lines and insist on immediate Wye withdrawals.

* The military believes that security conditions on the ground, if the Palestinian-Israeli talks fail, will be worse if the Wye withdrawals take place.

The poll found that, when presented with these facts, 71.4 percent oppose carrying out the Wye withdrawals before the final-status talks.

Only 18.5% took the Peres/Beilin/Arafat/Albright position that the Wye withdrawals should be carried out before the talks.

When one considers that the public was able to comprehend and act on this information within the severe time constraints of a telephone poll, one can only imagine the potential impact of a properly run information campaign.

It is noteworthy that 28.9% (the equivalent of over 30 Knesset seats) embrace the National Union's opposition to withdrawal under any circumstances.

The survey also found strong support for Barak's red lines or positions even harder than Barak's on all three issues: Jerusalem - 84.1%, Jordan Valley/settlement blocs - 64.6%, and refugees - 76.2%.

But hasn't Barak already committed to immediate implementation of the Wye withdrawals? Hardly. Last week, he diplomatically told Ha'aretz political correspondent Yossi Verter that 'this government will move the diplomatic process forward with political responsibility and political intelligence... As of this moment, I do not know what's in it [Wye], what it says, what the understandings are. I don't know which of them have been implemented and which not.'

If the situation is ripe for intelligent discussion of the logic of withdrawing in the West Bank when there is every indication that the final-status talks will ultimately fail, what little support there is for full withdrawal from the Golan (27.7% of Jews in the latest Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research survey) is even more precarious.

Those who support full withdrawal from the Golan rely on the 'mutual security arrangements' promised by the retired officers who are peddling withdrawal. But the public hasn't a clue what is really meant by that innocuous term. Most assume that under these 'arrangements,' Israel would be able to race up the Golan to meet incoming Syrian forces somewhere on the heights.

But that's not the 'clash line' the security talks considered. The previous talks with Syria put the 'clash line' at the Israel-Syria border at the bottom of the Golan. For every Syrian force reduction east of the 'clash line,' Israel was to carry out an equivalent reduction to the west of the line. Yes, Israel argued that for every 10-kilometer-wide band of demilitarized Syrian territory, Israel should have to demilitarize a thinner band, but that was only to adjust for the topographical advantage afforded Syria by the Golan.

These calculations, by their nature, have to make critical assumptions regarding not only force readiness and response time, but also the ability of Israel to rapidly accumulate, assess, and react to Syrian movements - something which goes far beyond simply noting the fact that some Syrian forces are in violation of the understandings.

I am confident that the Israeli public, with its intimate familiarity with the potential for IDF/defense foulups, will roundly reject the notion of a theoretical 'clash line' on the Kinneret.

The public can understand a proper argument and Barak's promise of national referendums on any deal with Syrian President Hafez Assad or Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat makes public opinion critical. The challenge today to the national camp is to get their message out.


Dr. Aaron Lerner is the Director of IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis)
POB 982 Kfar Sava, Israel
Tel 972-9-7604719
Fax 972-9-7411645

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