Posted 3:57 p.m. April 10
by Jamie Meltzer
U-WIRE (DC BUREAU)
(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Dr. Ephraim Sneh, Israeli Minister of Transportation, spoke to a group of more than 100 students at George Washington University this week. Topics included the current crisis in the Middle East, the past and present efforts to reach peace, and daily life in the war-torn region.
Sneh spoke at the campus Hillel center to a clearly pro-Israel and Jewish-American crowd as part of the Caravan for Democracy tour and GW’s Israeli month.
“Israel is forever, period.It’s not under any question marks for friends and enemies alike,” said Sneh, leading to a riveting round of applause.
Sneh’s speech was given in the style of a history lesson. “I will try not to be as boring as your teachers,” he said, leading to laughter.
The historical context was necessary, he said, because he said that few have a full understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the creation of the state of Israel in 1947. This is a crucial time of the conflict, according to Sneh, because it will determine the future of the region.
“There is here a glimmer of hope, the alternative is very, very bad,” he warned the crowd.
Sneh said Arafat can stop the terror as he has done it before, referring to the halt of 1995-96 suicide bombings on public buses. He said that the role of America is also “highly in need” to make peace a reality. The visit of Secretary of State Colin Powell, Sneh said, can directly lead to improvement.
Peace cannot be achieved, according to Sneh, without international pressure. He also recognized that whatever is achieved at this time, is not guaranteed for the long term.
“I do not think the Sharon government will be the final signers of peace with Palestine,” said Sneh.
The under-riding tension will not go away any time soon, but something has to be done to stop the violence at this moment.
“A partner in peace is not a partner for a wedding,” said Sneh. Sneh recognized that for the achievement of peace, both sides must make concessions. It is more important that the violence stops. “They want sovereignty, they can have it. We want security, we demand it.”
After his speech, Dr. Sneh fielded many questions from the audience. The first question raised was the role of Israel in the creation of a Palestinian state.
He said that the Israeli government is not “in the business of changing” the current Palestinian leadership, and reminded those in attendance that Yassar Arafat was elected democratically. Sneh recognized the integral role Arafat will play in the peace process. He is a symbol for Palestinians, and what he chooses to do will determine the course of events, according to Sneh. If he calls for martyrs, that would be bad — if he calls for peace and a cease-fire, Sneh said, that would be good.
Members of the GW student press attended a small press conference before the speech. The current conflict was discussed the most.Sneh said that while there has been no “time frame” determined for the conflict, he believes that “Israel’s goals” can be achieved in the short term.
These “goals” are the breakdown of the “terror infrastructure” and the protection of citizens. While he does not think that it is possible to end terrorism all together it is imperative that at least it is slowed down. This must be done, Sneh said, without annihilating the media.
“The other side wants up to lose this war in the media. Pictures of Jesus reddened with bullets, it is excellent for anti-Israel propaganda,” said Sneh. He continued to say that it is “important to win approval of the press.”
When asked whether Americans should travel to Israel because of the inherent dangers, Sneh said he travels to Jerusalem four times a week, against the urging of those close to him. He said he does so because “that’s life.”
Sneh served in the Israeli army in the 1960s after graduating from medical school. He served as minister of health in the Rabin cabinet, and was elected as deputy defense minister in 1999.He was appointed as Minister of Transportation in 2001.