April 13, 2000
Chances for Peace
Israel's deputy defense minister optimistic on Israeli-Palestinian peace process
Signing a framework for a peace agreement with the Palestinians by the end of May will help Israel to reshape the strategic equation in the Middle East, according to Israel's deputy defense minister, Ephraim Sneh, who briefed 250 delegates and guests at the recent Labor Zionist Alliance biennial convention.
Because Prime Minister Ehud Barak is also the defense minister, Sneh plays a crucial role in all peace negotiations.
"After we sign the framework agreement with the Palestinians," he said, "a new demarcation line will be drawn. In the new Middle East, it won't be merely Jews versus the Arabs. On one side of the line will be those governments who are committed to peace and who are friendly with the United States, such as Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Turkey, the Gulf States, Tunisia and Morocco. On the other side will be the rogue states, Iran and Iraq. Syria must decide which side of the line they want to be on."
Sneh was pessimistic about a peace agreement with Syria, citing Syrian President Hafez al-Assad's intransigence as a major barrier to solution. "We were ready to withdraw from most of the Golan Heights as long as we had access to the water in the Sea of Galilee and early-warning stations," Sneh said. Assad's desire to dictate the outcomes on his terms, however, cast a shadow over the peace negotiations and made it impossible to reach a compromise.
In comparison, Sneh told the convention, held at the Hyatt on Sunset hotel in West Hollywood, the Palestinian Authority has demonstrated its willingness to combat terrorism by working together with the Israelis to capture Hamas terrorists outside of Nablus. "Both the leadership of the Palestinian Authority and of Israel are deeply committed to the peace process," he said. The three major issues to address for future Israeli-Palestinian talks are municipal control of Jerusalem, the ability of the Israel Defense Forces to maintain a strong line of defense along the Jordan River and demilitarization of the West Bank and Gaza.
In addition to a long career in the Israel Defense Forces, Sneh is also a physician who commanded the medical unit in the 1976 Entebbe rescue (Operation Yonaton). He also commanded the security zone in Southern Lebanon, was the head of civil affairs in the West Bank and has been a member of Israel's Knesset since 1992.
For many years, he has played an important role in developing contacts with Palestinian leaders and preparing the foundation for an eventual Israeli-Palestinian agreement. As a Knesset member, he was assigned to the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence Subcommittee. In 1999, Prime Minister Ehud Barak appointed him Deputy Defense Minister.