In order to garner the necessary legitimacy to enact a future final status peace agreement with Syria or the Palestinians, Israeli politicians from the Left and the Right have endorsed the concept of a peace referendum. This article examines the potential consequences of a peace referendum in Israel by drawing on the referendum experience in Northern Ireland regarding the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. In the case of Northern Ireland, the legitimisation of the agreement required not only a clear majority of votes cast but also a clear majority among Protestants: an ‘ethnic majority'. Given the similarity of the discourse surrounding a peace referendum in Northern Ireland and in Israel, it is clear that a referendum in Israel would similarly require an ethnic Jewish majority to legitimise a peace agreement. Under these circumstances, rather than legitimising peace between Israel and its neighbours, a referendum would be more likely to result in a broad legitimation crisis for Israeli democracy by deepening the ethnic tensions between Israel's Jewish majority and its Arab minority. Hence, in contradistinction to the conventional wisdom, Israel would be well advised to avoid the use of a peace referendum.
|Published - 2003