The Last Chance

Article by Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh
(The Washington Post, Thursday, July 13, 2000)

The Camp David summit is the last chance for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. This summit must succeed; its failure is inconceivable and would cause overwhelming despair for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

The Israelis would respond to a failure by asking: "If the present government couldn’t achieve peace with the Palestinians, what government could?" The staunchest supporters of and the most active participants in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process make up Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s government. If even they fail, who will try again?

On the Palestinian side, the failure to reach an agreement would aid extremists, giving them the upper hand. Elements that oppose Yasser Arafat would convince even more Palestinians that fighting, rather than negotiating, is the effective way to attain national objectives.

Despair would ignite violence, and violence is like a snowball. No one knows exactly where it would stop. An eruption of Palestinian violence would destroy the confidence of Israelis in the feasibility of future reconciliation with their neighbors. The possibility of a peace treaty’s being approved in a referendum in Israel would surely fade.

A violent crisis of the kind that could follow a failure at Camp David would put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, open a new era of confrontation and quash the Palestinian dream. Even if the Palestinians declared independence unilaterally, it would apply to only 9 percent of the territory that they call Palestine and we call Eretz Israel.

The Palestinian economy, which under conditions of peace could become the fastest growing economy in the Arab world, would be doomed to shrink. The annual GNP per capita in the West Bank and the Gaza strip is currently $1,300 – 40 percent of which is derived from Palestinians working in Israel. A summit failure, followed by a violent confrontation, would cause a substantial reduction in the Palestinian GNP, not only because of the closure of the Israeli labor market but also because of the resulting flight of investors and tourists.

The same applies to Israel’s economy, though to a lesser extent. Without a momentum of peace, the Israeli economy is also unable to reach its ambitious goals.

The Palestinian leadership envisions not only sovereignty but also a new, modern society with opportunities for the younger generation. In a reality of permanent confrontation, this vision cannot materialize.

I met with Yasser Arafat last week. No Palestinian has risked more for the cause of peace than the Palestinian Authority chairman. During our meeting we were informed of President Clinton’s announcement calling both Arafat and Barak to Camp David. I am under the strong impression that Arafat shares a profound concern over the outcome of the summit and the fate of the peace process with Israelis. The gap between our positions and those of the Palestinians is not a negligible one, but surely it is not unbridgeable either.

Israel can effectively defend itself alongside its eastern sector without defying Palestinian interests. It is also possible to afford Palestinian refugees a future of respectable living and economic security, rather than feeding them illusory slogans. Reduction of the friction between Israeli settlers and Palestinians is worth a tolerable territorial price, and it is not incompatible with a viable Palestinian state with territorial contiguity. Finally, we can share a united, expanded Jerusalem without redividing it.

Peace is within our reach. If we miss it now, our children will not forgive us.    

 The Last Chance-Article by Deputy DM Sneh- July 13- 2000
 The Last Chance-Article by Deputy DM Sneh- July 13- 2000
The Camp David Summit – July 2000