AN ISRAELI VIEW
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
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
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
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.