Palestinian protesters on Temple Mount 370. (photo credit:Ammar Awad/Reuters)

A close neighbor

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It is possible to resolve all disputes under the formula of two states for two peoples and not use violence against each other.

In my many lectures all around Israel on the chances of peace, one question from the audience is always asked: What about Gaza? It is obvious that Hamas will not agree to make peace with Israel even if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas does. In a recent conversation between Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, Abbas once again assured Mashaal that if he reaches an agreement with Israel, he will bring it to a referendum of all of the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.

Mashaal, according to reports in the Palestinian media was satisfied. He did not say that Hamas would not allow the referendum to take place in Gaza, although I believe that there will be a large number of Hamas leaders who will oppose not only the peace deal, but even conducting the referendum in Gaza.

A few months ago I asked Abbas to listen to the answer I give my audiences about Gaza and to tell me if this reflected what he believed as well. I said that if there is a peace deal with Israel, Gaza will be part of the Palestinian state. There is no territorial dispute between Israel and Gaza and there are no longer any Israelis in Gaza. The two territories will eventually be linked, most likely by a tunnel 40 kilometers long (I propose that it be a rail link by tunnel that carries passengers, vehicles and cargo). The part of the agreement dealing with Gaza, though, will only be implemented when the regime that controls Gaza accepts all of the terms of the agreement – mainly peace with Israel. I believe, knowing the people of Gaza quite well, that they will then force the agreement on whoever is ruling them in a massive uprising that Hamas will not be able to withstand. And if they don’t, well then, the status quo of Gaza being isolated from the rest of the world would remain with the world’s backing behind it.

But now I ask the people of Gaza: Do we have to wait that long for you to change your destiny? The recent winter storm demonstrated quite clearly the Arabic proverb: a close neighbor is better than a distant brother. Today Hamas has no real friends in the world. They lost Egypt with the coup against the Muslim Brotherhood.

Sinai is sealed off them with all of its tunnels. The $140 million a month that the Hamas regime profited from the tunnel industry is gone. The regime is broke. They lost Iran and Syria when President Bashar Assad began slaughtering his own people and the Sunni Palestinian refugees in camps all around Damascus. Now Jordan has notified that Hamas leaders are not welcome in the Kingdom. Mashaal is living on borrowed time in Qatar. Senior Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook is living in Cairo under complete surveillance and strict limitations by the Egyptian intelligence.

The only (partially) open door to Gaza today is via Israel. Ironically, Israel may actually be the only friend that Gaza has.

The following is part of a letter I wrote to a Hamas leader with whom I am in regular contact: There have been times in history when natural disasters have opened the doors between former enemies to turn the page and begin a new relationship. It happened twice between Greece and Turkey when each side faced their own series of earthquakes. And it could happen now between Israel and Gaza.

During the last days of the storm, Israel sent troops to Kerem Shalom to open the passage when it was closed to deliver emergency aid to Gaza – food, fuel, water pumps and more. Israel was facing serious problems of its own with electricity outages across the country and other urgent needs caused by the storm and yet, it answered the call for humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza.

The Arab saying that a close neighbor is better than a distant brother certainly applies here. Israel could be Gaza’s best friend. Today Israel is perhaps Gaza’s only friend and this friendship is one that could be long lasting because if political conditions were otherwise, there is no conflict between Israel and Gaza. If the government of Gaza that you are a part of would make the wise decision to recognize this reality, and with that recognize Israel and end its dedication to destroy Israel, Gaza could become a paradise almost overnight. The potential for Gaza’s prosperity and success is enormous, but this will only happen with cooperation between Gaza and Israel.

Yes there are political conflicts, and yes Gaza is part of the Palestinian people and part of Palestine. It is possible to resolve all disputes under the formula of two states for two peoples and not use violence against each other.

The people of Gaza deserve to live a normal life. They deserve to have a future. They deserve to have homes with electricity and places of work and good schools and hope.

I suggest that you use the good will demonstrated by Israel now to take the first steps towards recognition and exploring a new beginning between the two sides.

Why don’t you have a discussion about this with your prime minister and with Khaled Mashaal.

Today could be the first step on the road towards a brighter future.

Gershon Baskin is co-chairman of IPCRI, Israel-Palestine: Creative Regional Initiatives (IPCRI), formerly known as the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, a nonprofit think tank that combines research with peace-building actions and advocacy across Israel and Palestine. He is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew, and The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press in English.

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin is one of the most recognizable names in the Middle East Peace process. His dedication to creating a culture of peace and environmental awareness, coupled with his impeccable integrity, has earned him the trust of the leaders of all sides of the century old conflict. Few people have such far-reaching and positive impacts on promoting peace, security, prosperity and bi-national relationships.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.
Gershon Baskin