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Middle East Roundtable / Edition 4 Volume 1

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What did you do today, to promote peace?

No longstanding partnership
a conversation with Ephraim Sneh

bitterlemons: Is the current parallel political instability in Israel and Palestine coincidental?

Sneh: No doubt there is a connection. The political paralysis in Israel and Palestine has something in common. In Israel the composition of the Knesset does not allow any real progress toward peace. On the Palestinian side, the rivalry between Yasser Arafat and the rest of the leadership has the same effect.

bitterlemons: In Israel, coalition negotiations with Labor begin this week. What are the chances for success?

Sneh: I don't bet on a longstanding partnership, because basically our [Labor's] concept and Sharon's are entirely different. We are ready to join him for a limited period of time, only to make sure he is the one that dismantles settlements and starts the withdrawal. This is the only reason.

If there is no Likud readiness to make substantial changes in the government guidelines, there is no real chance for a coalition. In Gaza we need a concrete and shorter timetable for withdrawal. If this doesn't change and there is no change in [Finance Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu's social agenda, we have no reason to join.

bitterlemons: Is there a basis of mutual trust between Labor and Likud on the Gaza disengagement issue?

Sneh: What Sharon really wants is to solidify his grip on the West Bank and materialize his vision of the final boundaries of Israel, giving the Palestinians sovereignty in seven West Bank enclaves and Gaza, with Israel retaining half the West Bank under its control. We may join his coalition not because we accept the entire plan or don't see the deception, but because we want him to take the first step of dismantling settlements and to pave the way for us in the future.

Sharon's plan is based on the false assumption that there is no Palestinian partner. He made sure there is none by giving nothing to a possible moderate partner, because such a partner would not accept his final vision of seven enclaves plus Gaza as a Palestinian state. So there is no reason for us to stay in Sharon's coalition beyond limited disengagement.

bitterlemons: As a veteran observer of the Palestinian scene, how do you think the current Palestinian governmental crisis will be resolved?

Sneh: We are talking as events occur every hour. This upheaval may evolve into substantial changes in the Palestinian political structure. But one thing is for sure: there is great discontent among the Palestinian population. I have been talking with Palestinians for the last two weeks; there is great discontent with Arafat. One day the Palestinians in the territories will say enough is enough to incompetence. To quote what General Nasser Yusuf told Arafat in a bitter argument, "All the national revolutions in this generation have succeeded, but yours."

bitterlemons: Is Israel's disengagement plan a positive or negative catalyst for Palestinians?

Sneh: Paradoxically, though I don't like the hidden agenda of this plan, which is annexation of at least half the West Bank, I think it stimulated the Palestinians to action. For the first time, they responded in a [historically] Zionist way. They said okay, what you give, we take. At least somebody like Mohammad Dahlan spoke in this spirit, and this is very encouraging.

bitterlemons: Whether or not Labor joins the coalition, the next Israeli elections have to be held within a little over two years. Are the settlements and disengagement issues likely to affect those elections?

Sneh: In this regard, the next election in Israel should be one of national decision and not national consensus.-Published 19/7/2004©bitterlemons.org

Ephraim Sneh is a member of Knesset (Labor) and a former member of the Israeli cabinet. A retired Israel Defense Forces general, he is a former head of the Israeli administration in the West Bank and was a long-time negotiator with the Palestinian Liberation Organization on behalf of Prime Ministers Rabin and Peres.

Unstable governments

Bitterlemons-international.org aspires to engender greater understanding about the Middle East region and open a new common space for world thinkers and political leaders to present their viewpoints and initiatives on the region. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at ghassan@bitterlemons-international.org and yossi@bitterlemons-international.org, respectively.

hagalil.com 27-02-2004



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