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Ephraim Sneh was Israel's minister of defense under Prime Minister Ehud Barak and remains a member of the security cabinet in Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon's government as minister of transportation. He spoke with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels on Sept. 9.

NATHAN GARDELS: Shimon Peres is talking to Yasser Arafat, but Ariel Sharon thinks that is a waste of time. Is it worth talking to Arafat?

Prime Minister Sharon is not "for" or "against"
talking to Arafat. He has authorized it, but he doesn't think anything tangible will come from it. Even if Mr. Sharon is right, we have to try for both a moral and a practical reason. Since the end of last September we have lost nearly 140 men and women to terrorism. Only in the past week, we have lost more people than all of 1999 in Lebanon; our casualties in 2001 are 13 times higher than in that year in Lebanon. So, there is no effort not worth trying to stop the terrorism. In this sense, it is a moral duty of the government to talk to Arafat.

In a practical sense, we need to make it clear to the international
community that, parallel to our military effort, we are serious about
peace. We have to pursue this angle, even if the chances seem very remote.

There is far more terrorism against Israel now than when you were defense minister under Barak. Why?

SNEH: In war and politics, there is momentum not only for good things -- as in the years after Oslo -- but for bad, as in the past year. There is a built-in spiraling effect -- when things go bad, they get worse and escalate unless you can stop it.

Eight months ago the Palestinians realized they could not achieve their political goals completely through negotiations, so they felt if they pushed harder with violence we would cave in. We did not cave in. We did not bend. So they have increased the violence because they think that will erode the Israeli will and force the international community to pressure us.

This is Arafat's strategy: to get 100 percent of what he wants instead of the 90 percent offered to him by Israel -- through terrorism. Here lies the profound reason for what is happening today. It is a terrible mistake on Arafat's part.

His strategy has been totally destructive for his people. They have
suffered four times the casualties we have. Their economy is ruined. We suffer, but we can still eat. He has gained nothing and will only continue to deepen his losses. Arafat still does not understand how his war of terror has eroded Palestinian statehood, not brought it closer.

Some question whether Arafat really controls the violence sufficiently to shape it toward his ends. Does he?

If Arafat takes only two measures, the violence will be reduced by 95 percent. First, if all those on his payroll -- his intelligence organization, his security apparatus -- would stop being involved in terrorism, the violence would fall dramatically. Arafat is directly responsible for half of our casualties. Second, if those identified terrorists who mastermind and organize the Islamic Jihad and Hamas attacks were arrested, the rest of the violence would cease overnight. If Arafat arrested them, he would be protecting them from our interception operations.

When I was deputy minister of defense during the Peres government just after Rabin, I met with Arafat's key military operatives. I told them point blank: "Put these people in jail, or I will kill them. I promise it. If you want a good pretext to arrest them, I have given you one."

Arafat hasn't jailed them, so, Israel is acting as you promised?


Do you support the idea of a "buffer zone" to keep
Palestinians away from Israeli towns?

This idea is only partially practical. Can you deny Arab farmers the right to cultivate their land which falls within the buffer zone along the Israeli border because we are trying to keep armed terrorists out? That won't work. And what happens around the settlements?

I am rather in favor of building a wall along, say, some 60 miles or so, to separate us. But I have no illusions that, although it will ease the concerns for some, it would reduce the overall number of Israeli casualties.

You have spoken of Arafat's strategy. Does Israel have a strategy for peace beyond not bending to terrorism?

In order not to lose the war, Israel must stand fast. But that does not mean we will win the war. And this is a war of attrition not unlike that from 1967 to 1970 when we lost soldiers every day along the Suez Canal, in the Jordan Valley and along our northern border. To win the war, we need a diplomatic approach that aligns the world with Israel and forces Arafat to sit down and talk instead of fostering terror. A government that only fights cannot win this war. There is no ultimate military solution to this conflict.

If Arafat's strategy is to pursue violence, what is the point of the talks with Peres?

The hope of such talks is to find a road map to "Mitchell" --
the Mitchell Commission recommendations which are themselves a road map back to a peace process through a cease-fire and confidence-building measures. And that can only mean, to begin with, persuading Arafat to abandon terror as the means to reach his political objectives.

If he agrees to that, we will work out a process to get back to the
table -- if I do A, you do B; if you do B, then I will do C, etc. By the
time we are to K or N, we are back on track.

Arafat's advisors will say they can't control the violence as long as there are no substantive political gains. In short, they say the violence will only subside once they are back at the table....

Yes, they need a horizon to aspire to. Well, they have it. Theplatform upon which this Labor-Likud government is based states that wewill implement all the signed agreements with the Palestinians. That means Oslo A and B, Wye River and Sharm al Sheik. That is more than enough work for the remaining two-year mandate of this government. I say to the Palestinians, "Let's get going." Let us have a cease-fire for two months so we can begin implementing these agreements.

The Mitchell Report calls for an end to expansion of
settlements, and this is supposedly also part of Labor's agreement with Likud. But Sharon fudges the point with his idea of "natural expansion" as the settler population grows.

The settlements should not be expanded beyond their presently built-up area. If the settlers want to build a new house, a new school or a clinic, they must build it inside. This is the solution, especially since Israelis are not flocking to live in the settlements. As I have told the settlers, "in a time of negotiations, you don't change the map."

Europe has stepped into the vacuum left by U.S. inaction on the Middle East. Can Europe play an useful role mediating this conflict?

I don't believe third-party mediation is indispensable for
success. On the contrary, the real breakthroughs between Israel and the Arabs were achieved through secret, direct negotiations. I am a veteran of these talks for 16 years. There is nothing that can't be settled face to face. Nothing.

The role of the international community -- whether Europe or the United States -- is to make it clear to Arafat that it will not deliver Israel on his terms. Its role is to make it clear it will not reward terrorism by pressuring Israel.

(c) 2001, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 9/10/01)