Interview with Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh
"The Charlie Rose Show", Thursday, July 27, 2000

MR. ROSE: We’re continuing our consideration of what happened at Camp David and the future for peace in the Middle East with Ephraim Sneh. Sneh is the deputy defense minister of Israel. With the perspective of at least a day or two, how do you see Camp David? Failure, success, or laying the groundwork for something new?

MR. SNEH: Well, it was not a success, unfortunately, but it was not a failure either. Even from a perspective of two days, we can learn. And it’s quite evident that Camp David was a necessary step in our way to Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. And it was an inevitable, indispensable step, because we have to remember that for the first time in history, the two leaders, Barak and Arafat, were together in one venue, sitting for two weeks and discussing those issues that no leader before them ever dared to touch — Jerusalem, refugees, final borders. Neither Rabin the late or Shimon Peres discussed it with Arafat. And now this was a higher step of negotiation. I think it was very important. And I hope that quite soon we will learn that it’s going to be continued.

MR. ROSE: Some say that Prime Minister Barak put too many concessions out early, leaving nothing to close the deal.

MR. SNEH: No, he made a long way towards Mr. Arafat. He made concessions. But he went as far as he could, according to the mandate that the Israeli people, his constituency, gave him, and he stopped there. The fact that he came home empty-handed means that he went as far as he could. And at this point he stopped and said, "That’s it, no more." I believe that now, in the next turn, it’s the time of the Palestinians to make the steps forward. That’s the true analysis of the situation.

MR. ROSE: So your best hope would be that the Palestinians will see that Prime Minister Barak has made some concessions, has stepped forward in the search for peace, and that they, on further thinking, will accept some kind of joint sovereignty over portions of Jerusalem in order to reach an agreement?

MR. SNEH: Yes, and that’s a lot. No one there to speak about it in the past. There were many Israelis who thought, "Well, some neighborhoods, suburbs, Arab suburbs of Jerusalem, are not so important. Actually, we can relinquish them." But nobody dared to say so.

Now, in a broader framework, what actually we offered is sort of a trade-off. We want to annex to Jerusalem major, large Jewish neighborhoods, and in return, to allow a certain extent of sovereignty to the Palestinians in suburbs which are at the periphery of Jerusalem.

A creative differential solution is the only solution that we can have to Jerusalem. It’s so complicated a problem that we must build a very unusual way of solution to this extremely complicated problem. And we went in this direction. This was the core of the suggestions, unless we decided to put Jerusalem aside and try to wrap up a deal without Jerusalem. And this is almost impossible.

MR. ROSE: Some say Prime Minister Barak went further than he promised he would go in his election campaign.

MR. SNEH: Well, he says that we are going to keep Jerusalem united and that we keep the defense border of Israel along the Jordan River and that we will not allow an influx, massive influx of refugees to the borders of Israel. I think that he lived up to his promises. He stretched the flexibility as far as he could, but as I said, he didn’t cross those red lines because the description of future Jerusalem would be an expanded, non-divided city where we may have our capital; and another part of it in the eastern periphery of it, the Palestinians could have their own capital. And this is, I think, consistent with our red lines that we did promise with the Israeli borders —

MR. ROSE: No question in your mind it’s consistent with —

MR. SNEH: — (inaudible) — a year and a half ago.

MR. ROSE: — the red lines?

MR. SNEH: In the framework of a certain necessary flexibility, which is necessary in negotiations, I think we kept it. If we succeeded to complete the agreement, then everybody could see that we adhere to our red lines. We didn’t make Jerusalem, the Jewish Jerusalem, weaker. We didn’t allow another Arab army to be deployed in the West Bank or in Gaza Strip. We kept the Jordan River as the defense border of Israel. And we didn’t accept the moral and the judicial responsibility for the tragedy of the Palestinian refugees. So I think this is our policy, and we kept it. And at the point that Barak understood that any farther step toward the Palestinians is unacceptable, he went home.

MR. ROSE: Characterize how you perceive Barak’s relationship with Arafat, the respect they have for each other, the trust that they have in each other, the sense that they are in this together notion.

MR. SNEH: It seems to me that to describe it honestly, both leaders understand that their counterpart is the only leader that can strike a deal. Only Arafat can make it on the Palestinian side, and only Barak can do it on the Israeli side. While knowing this, each one has a great extent of respect and a sense of responsibility not to bring about total collapse of the negotiations, because after us, maybe no one would try again. I think this is the true description of the relationship.

MR. ROSE: That’s why the moment is so important.

MR. SNEH: That’s the point. The current leadership of Israel is consistent with the strongest supporters of the peace process in Barak’s cabinet — people like Peres, Beilin, Ben-Ami, Sarid till recently, and I hope he will be back soon. These are the staunchest supporters of the peace process. If this government cannot bring about peace with the Palestinians, reconciliation with the Palestinians, which other government can do it?

And in a different way, it applies to Arafat. Arafat is committed to the peace process. If he fails, the entire concept inside the Palestinian society of dealing with Israel through negotiations would collapse, and the next Palestinian leader would be somebody from the very fanatic fringe of the Palestinian society, somebody from the Hamas or the Jihad, of those organizations. So, actually, that’s true. If we fail, maybe no one will try again.

MR. ROSE: Can you tell me if there were credible threats made against Prime Minister Barak’s life while he was at Camp David?

MR. SNEH: There are rumors, assessments. You know, I’m sure that there is hidden somewhere a person in our country who is ready to carry out again the same political assassination as put an end to the life of our beloved leader, Yitzhak Rabin. I believe that the killer is waiting somewhere, and we have to be aware of it. The tone of the instigation, the vocabulary that is used in the last couple of weeks against Barak, reminds me of the days of October ’95, just before the assassination of Rabin. And it’s very sad that people in our country didn’t learn this terrible lesson.

MR. ROSE: Do you worry about the life of your friend?

MR. SNEH: Yes, I’m concerned about it. You know, the security measures, the precautions that are taken today, are very, very thorough and strong, but you can never know. He’s well-guarded.

MR. ROSE: Apart from some extremist like the young man who killed, assassinated, murdered Yitzhak Rabin, how is this going down with the Israeli public? What took place at Camp David? Because Prime Minister Barak was reading the polls that said 60, 70 percent of the people were opposed to some of the concessions he was prepared to make on Jerusalem.

MR. SNEH: I don’t think that these are the right figures. There is a high sensitivity in Israel about Jerusalem. And allow me to explain what is the difference. When you ask somebody, "Are you in favor of dividing Jerusalem, of concessions in Jerusalem?" most of the Israelis, including very, very strong Barak supporters, would say,

"No, we are against it." But when you ask specifically about a certain neighborhood, "Do you mind that in Shuafat the Palestinians would have municipal autonomy?" everybody says, "I couldn’t care less. Why not?"

So when you go to specific details about those "concessions" in Jerusalem, and people discover the names of those suburbs, those neighborhoods, where we’re supposed to make concessions, these are places that are never visited, that is never included in the old prayer of the Jewish people. Those people say, "Ah, is this what you mean? Okay, I don’t mind."

So when it comes to specific details, then we discover that if it ends up in a real peace and reconciliation with the Palestinians, there are some concessions in Jerusalem that most of the Israelis are ready to make. It doesn’t apply to the holy places of us, to those places which for us symbolize Jerusalem, which are the subject of the real prayer of the previous generations, of our generations, because we pray to Jerusalem, not to Abu Dis and not to Shuafat and not to Beit Hanina. And these are the places where we were ready to share sovereignty with the Palestinians. That’s a big difference.

MR. ROSE: Arik Sharon, the head of the Likud party, probably looks forward to a new vote of confidence. There is talk of wanting new elections. What will Prime Minister Barak do now to build up his support in the Knesset? Will he make a new deal with Shas, or something else?

MR. SNEH: To reach peace with the Palestinians, to put an end to the centuries-long conflict, remains the strategic objective of our government and of Ehud Barak. In order to obtain this objective, we need a coalition of parties which are ready to go in this direction. Of course, Meretz has to return to the coalition and we hope to convince Shas to go together with us, and then we build a reasonable coalition. I am afraid that the Likud, the Likud is not a partner for this — for obtaining these objectives.

MR. ROSE: And there will be no national —

MR. SNEH: And if there will be no other choice — there is no real national unity now. The Israeli people is split. The majority is in favor of a peace agreement and the minority is against it, even if it is not a small minority at all. But we have to decide. We can’t wait with a decision till we have broader consensus. We have to decide

now, in order to prevent deterioration down the road. And there is some moments in the history of the nation when a decision is necessary, and not a consensus, and that’s exactly the historic moment where we are now.

We have a majority for a national decision. It may be in a referendum, it may be new elections, but this decision must be taken. We are now in a crossroad, and we have to decide which way we take.

MR. ROSE: Now that there is no agreement coming out of Camp David and the likelihood of something happening in the near future is not certain, if the Palestinians go forward with announcing a Palestinian state, what will be the consequences for Israel, and what will Israel do?

MR. SNEH: We strongly advise them not to do that, because when you start with unilateral measures, it never stops in the other side’s unilateral decision. It maybe followed by unilateral measures of the other side — in this case, Israel. And a tactics, or a ping-pong of unilateral measures — this is not the prescription for a real peace agreement. So it may even put an end to the dialogue, because if you do things without considering your partner or, if you want, your rival, you don’t reach an agreement.

So a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state is highly unadvisable, and we say to the Palestinians: It’s better to wait, to make another effort, to think in a more creative way, and to reach an agreement — an agreed-upon arrangement, formula — than to start with a unilateral measure which can start a new circle of violence, and you never know where it ends. So we strongly recommend to the Palestinians not to do it.

MR. ROSE: So the implicit threat is that if the Palestinians declare a new Palestinian state on September 13th, there is the possibility that there will be no more bargaining from the Israeli side and, secondly, there may be violence.

MR. SNEH: That’s true. That’s a danger. That’s why I think, to take such a measure unilaterally, it’s not a clever thing to do. So, there are some practical implications to this declaration. You have to define a territory which is your own, and this is a prescription for a series of clashes. I hope that Arafat would be clever and courageous enough not to do that. We can reach a good agreement during this year. The 13th of September is not a sacred date. And we can reach an agreement without it, no doubt.


 Interview with Deputy Defense Minister Sneh-July 27- 2000
 Interview with Deputy Defense Minister Sneh-July 27- 2000
The Camp David Summit – July 2000