SNEH: PUT THOSE BEHIND TERROR IN JAIL, OR ISRAEL WILL KILL THEM
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?
EPHRAIM SNEH: 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.
GARDELS: 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
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.
GARDELS: Some question whether Arafat really controls the violence
sufficiently to shape it toward his ends. Does he?
SNEH: 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."
GARDELS: Arafat hasn't jailed them, so, Israel is acting as you promised?
GARDELS: Do you support the idea of a "buffer zone" to keep
Palestinians away from Israeli towns?
SNEH: 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.
GARDELS: You have spoken of Arafat's strategy. Does Israel have a
strategy for peace beyond not bending to terrorism?
SNEH: 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.
GARDELS: If Arafat's strategy is to pursue violence, what is the point
of the talks with Peres?
SNEH: 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.
GARDELS: 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....
SNEH: 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.
GARDELS: 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.
SNEH: 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
GARDELS: Europe has stepped into the vacuum left by U.S. inaction
on the Middle East. Can Europe play an useful role mediating this conflict?
SNEH: 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)