Dr. Ephraim Sneh served as Minister of Health, Deputy Defence Minister as well as Minister of Transportation in the Israeli government. He was also head of the civilian administration in the West Bank between 1985 and 1987.
Dr. Sneh outlined the current and future challenges of the peace process, stating that it has reached a stalemate and if conditions continue there is little promise of change in the future. The main impediment lies in the weakness in leadership on both sides. The current Israeli Prime Minister has declared his openness toward a two-state solution, yet he faces a great deal of political opposition from hardliners, advisors and party members in his coalition. On the other hand the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, is also capable and ready to take forward a two-sate solution, yet his political support is weak in the Gaza Strip which accounts for 40% of the Palestinian population. Overall there has been a lack of support for moderate efforts to solve the conflict. In order to move forward with the peace process political measures need to be put in place that will legitimize the effectiveness of a moderate approach.
There is a strong need for a third party to push the peace process and the US could fill these shoes provided they are realistic in their assessments and definite in their decisions. With regard to Fatah leadership after Mahmoud Abbas -- there are several young and ambitious Palestinians in the Fatah party as well as seasoned veterans who are willing and capable to take a leadership role after Abu Mazen. The youth especially are looking to change the Palestinian legacy from one of slogans to one of state building. There is much promise in current Fatah Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad’s plan to develop the structure of a Palestinian state through economy and governance before the realization of an actual Palestinian State, much like the case of Israel itself before it gained independence from the British mandate. But in order for development efforts to succeed it is important for there to be a political solution on the horizon.
Lastly, India and Israel both stand on the frontline as victims of terrorism. Terrorism, not driven simply by political means, but against a culture of democracy, plurality and modernity. In order to combat terrorism successfully, good intelligence and smart action to preempt terrorist activities are required. Strategic deterrence is also required. A long-term solution to the India-Pakistan conflict will require profound and intelligent analysis that would change Pakistan's course away from terrorism. This is because in essence the core of the conflict is between Pakistan and itself. But most importantly, any efforts to resolve this conflict must involve strong support and assistance from the United States once again.
Mr. Mario Carera, from the Office of the Special Envoy for the Middle East in the Swiss Federal Department for Foreign Affairs, also participated in the interactions. Until recently Mr. Carera was head of the Jerusalem Office of the Swiss Development and Cooperation agency for five years.
Mr. Carera suggested the easing of travel and import restrictions in the territories as a way of weakening radical elements amongst the Palestinian population. Gaza should be opened so that business is facilitated, information is exchanged and as a result, support for Hamas will weaken. Economic growth in the West Bank, on the other hand, will reduce tensions and the dependence on international assistance, a measure which is not sustainable in the long-run. In addition he affirmed that moderate efforts must be supported with concrete political initiatives.
Both Dr. Sneh and Mr. Carera spent a few days in Mumbai interacting with the SFG team and associates for in-depth discussions on various issues.