Gershon Baskin with Salam Fayyad, Palestinian politician and former Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority.

In the land of miracles, let’s get real

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Gershon Baskin believes that Palestinian unilateralism might be the best way forward, and a two-year plan for Palestinian statehood, supported by Obama and the Quartet with significant aid and assistance, successfully demonstrating Palestinian resolve for statehood and peace with its neighbour might be the best way to convince the Israeli public that they must allow the Palestinians to gain freedom from Israeli control.

Now that the NY Summit has come and gone, Netanyahu made his speech to the world, Abbas had his opportunity to speak his mind, Is there any reasonable person out there who actually thinks a negotiated peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians is possible? While this is the land of miracles, let’s get real.

While both Israeli and Palestinian public opinion polls continue to show that a clear majority of both peoples want peace, neither side believes there is a partner on the other side. Objectively speaking, there is no reason why Israelis and Palestinians should trust each other. Both sides systematically breached every single agreement they signed.

Israeli society lost its faith in peace and no longer dreams of driving to Damascus for hummus. Israelis do not want to visit Cairo or Amman and do not particularly care if Jordanians or Egyptians visit Israel.

Israelis no longer believe that giving up territory will bring peace. The general Israeli interpretation of the “territory for peace” scheme is that we withdrew from areas in the West Bank and created the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat which then attacked us with weapons that we provided them.

In Gaza, which Israel left entirely—withdrawing both settlements and military, we got Qassam rockets in exchange. Whether this reflects what really happened and why is not relevant. This is the way that the overwhelming majority of Israelis understand that reality.

Palestinians, on their side, believed that they would control more than 90 percent of the West Bank before even sitting down at the table to negotiate final borders, Jerusalem and refugees. They believed that they would experience economic growth. Instead, Oslo brought with it a regime of permits, closures and checkpoints that reduced the size of the Palestinian economy with each passing day. They believed that the settlement enterprise on their lands would be ceased and withdrawn; instead they saw the settlement population grow more than 100 percent since they signed the Oslo agreement. They never imagined that 16 years later the Israeli occupation would be even stronger and as repressive as it is now.

The peace process is filled with myths. One of the most prevailing, which is reinforced consistently, is that Israel offered the Palestinians everything but they rejected all Israeli generosity.

The latest version of this centres around the so-called “Olmert offer” to Abbas. In their final meeting before Olmert left office, it was reported that Olmert offered Abbas 100 percent of the disputed territory (through withdrawal and land swaps), Islamic control over the Temple Mount compound (with Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall and Jewish Quarter) and even a refugee return of 5,000 under family reunification guidelines—and Abbas rejected all of this, stating that the gaps remain too wide. It is quite amazing that the majority of Israelis view Olmert as having a problem (to say the least) telling the truth, yet the one issue on which the Israeli public completely believes him is on what he offered Abbas.

The truth is that throughout all of the talks Olmert refused to provide anything in writing. There were no formal joint minutes. There were, in fact, no detailed and systematic negotiations.

In his final meeting with Abbas, Olmert described an offer and Abbas had to take notes on what it contained. Olmert did produce a map, which he gave Abbas to examine for several minutes, but then took it back and put it away. Abbas had to draw a map from memory when he debriefed his team in Ramallah.

Aside from not being serious in the means of negotiations, substantively the Olmert proposal included continued Israeli control of Palestine’s external borders and other non-acceptable substantial concessions on Palestinian sovereignty that any liberation movement would reject.

Now Netanyahu refuses to begin negotiations from where Olmert concluded. He insists on continuing settlement-building and ignoring Israel’s Road Map obligations, while demanding that the Palestinians come to the table without pre-conditions. There is no way that Abbas can agree to these conditions.

We are left with an Israeli government that has no intention of negotiating real peace with the Palestinians based on ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

On the bright side, we also have an increasingly successful Palestinian Authority in the West Bank (though it has no control and no real strategy for gaining control over Gaza). We also have a Palestinian prime minister who designed and is implementing an admirable plan for creating a de facto Palestinian state in the West Bank for now, and hopefully later in Gaza, too.

The Salam Fayyad plan is one of the most positive developments of recent times. Israel has always claimed, in words and by historical example, that the Palestinians must build their state through taking responsibility for their own lives. They must build state institutions and prove to themselves and to the world that they are worthy of a state and will not be a burden on the rest of the world. Most importantly, the Palestinian state must not be a failed state, meaning primarily that the civilian-political institutions—the Executive branch—must have exclusive control over the military forces within the state. That is exactly what Fayyad is doing, rather successfully.

Since his first day in office Fayyad understood (with the full backing of Abbas) the principle that the security of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian state is inextricably linked to the security of Israel.

Palestinian unilateralism might be the best way forward now. A two-year plan for Palestinian statehood, supported by Obama and the Quartet with significant aid and assistance, successfully demonstrating Palestinian resolve for statehood and peace with its neighbour might be the best way to convince the Israeli public that they must allow the Palestinians to gain freedom from Israeli control. Public opinion in Israel will shift away from the policies supported by the Netanyahu government, because the public will realise, in the face of a real possibility of peace, that every other alternative to ending the occupation is far worse for Israel.

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