Gershon Baskin, a Jewish peace activist, became the unlikely negotiator for Shalit's release. Credit Michal Chelbin and Oded Plotnizki for The New York Times

Israel, Palestinians & Mid-East: Prospects for the Two State Solution

Gershon Baskin shares his ideas about the Prospects For The Two State Solution at the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre.

ALAN JOHNSON (BICOM): Today we are very pleased to be able to talk to Gershon Baskin about the prospects for the two-state solution. Gershon is chairman of the Israeli-Palestinian Centre For Research and Information (ICPRI), a joint Palestinian and Israeli think-tank working on the peace process. Gershon also played a key role recently in the release of Gilad Schalit, through his conversations with Hamas. Gershon, let’s start by talking about how you came to be involved in this kind of work.

GERSHON BASKIN: I immigrated to Israel in 1978 and since then I have been engaged in various aspects of Jewish-Arab relations, Israeli-Palestinian relations, and working for peace in the Middle East. After living in an Arab village inside Israel for two years, where I did volunteer work, I was hired by the government of Israel as the first civil servant responsible for Jewish-Arab relations. In this role I created a state educational committee on education, coexistence and democracy.

In 1976, together with a group of Jewish students in New York, we went to the United Nations to meet the PLO ambassador at the time to ask him to recognise the State of Israel and accept the two-state solution. The ambassadors’ response at that time was “over my dead body”. At the time I was disappointed, as I was searching for avenues of dialogue with Palestinians. I believed the two-state solution was the only solution to the conflict and the Palestinians were not yet on board. So I waited patiently.

In 1981 I launched the Institute for Education for Jewish- Arab Coexistence, which I directed until the outbreak of the first intifada. In the fourth month first Intifada I visited a Palestinian refugee camp to try and understand from a Palestinianperspective what it was they were fighting about.

At the outbreak of the Intifada I began reading the leaflets that came out from the United Command of the Intifada representing the four main PLO organisations: Fatah, the Popular Front (PFLP), the Democratic Front (DFLP) and the Palestinian Communist Party (PPP). They were all talking about ending the occupation, creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and making peace with Israel. Those were the messages coming out in the Intifada. I wanted to check and see if that was real, so I went to Dheisheh refugee camp, spent a day there and that’s exactly what I heard .  So I came back home and resigned from the organisation I was directing (The Institute for Education for Jewish Arab Coexistence).

I then published an ad in three Palestinian newspapers in East Jerusalem that said if you believe in the two-state solution and if you believe that Israelis and Palestinians can work together for peace, call me. I gave my home phone number. The ad went in on a Friday morning and by Saturday night I had received 43 phone calls and I scheduled appointments with anyone who was willing to talk to me. I sat forfive days in the courtyard of the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem. I met with 23 people. In preparation for those meetings I prepared a one-and-a-half page document, in which I said the following: “The Israeli– Palestinian conflict is no longer an existential conflict. It is no longer a question of them or us, it is a question of us and them, or us and you, and the question is ‘how?’ I also proposed in that document that the conflict was about seven core issues:

  1. The question of Palestinian statehood and the nature of its sovereignty;
  2. The delineation of borders between the two states;
  3. The future of Jerusalem;
  4. The refugee question;
  5. The physical link between the West Bank and Gaza;
  6. The issue of water rights and natural resources;
  7. The economic relations between the two future states.

Every single Palestinian I met during those five days – all 23 of them – agreed entirely[that these were the] seven core issues.

I understood that if there is agreement on what conflict is about, and everyone I met with was in full agreement with me, it was natural to me that the next phase we needed to gothrough was to bring together experts on the issues and propose solutions. This was the idea behind creating the Israeli-Palestinian Centre For Research and Information(IPCRI), which aims to develop practical solutions to the issues in conflict. With experts from both sides – not marginal voices or your typical Israeli ‘peaceniks’–we spent time over the next 15 to 20 years in working groups putting together proposals on how to resolve the conflict. In October 1992, as an example, we held a very important meeting here in London between a group of Israeli and Palestinian security experts a year before Oslo,  dealing with how to resolve the security dilemmas that would exist with the creation of a Palestinian state. We also examined security cooperation, the release of prisoners and fighting terrorism.

25 years later I believe categorically that there is nothing in this conflict that we don’t know how to resolve. Every single issue in this conflict has a solution that is acceptable to both parties in principle, to the minutest detail. This is the most researched conflict in the history of conflicts. There has been more practical peace proposals put down on the table between Israelis and the Palestiniansthat any other conflict. The problem that we face today, as opposed to the problems we faced 15 to 20 years ago, is not how to do it, but how do we get the leaders to make the decisions that need to be made in order to have a resolution to the conflict. This conflict is resolvable because we know what the solutions are and the solutions are acceptable, in principle, to the majority of Israelis and Palestinians.

 

CAN NETANYAHU AND ABBAS MAKE PEACE?

The problem that we have today is that we have 20 years of failed peacemaking. When a peace process fails it is much more difficult to pick it up and start again, because no one trusts each other. And  they have very good reasons not to trust each other! Objectively speaking, there are no reasons why Israelis and Palestinians should trust each other. We have all failed to implement our obligations under five agreements that we signed between ourselves. You can take those written texts, analyse  them, and see what has been implemented, what has not been implemented and who is to blame. The simple answer is that both sides are to blame. Both sides have made substantive breaches in their obligations under all five agreements that were signed. You can start to assign blame, judge whose breaches were bigger and which breaches led to others, but the bottom line is that we have no peace process today.

Yet there is no resolution to this conflict except a negotiated agreement. There will not be an imposed solution. There can’t be a Pax Americana, a Pax Europa, a PaxUNa. It is not going to come from the outside; the agreement has to be  negotiated by the parties, and today we have a situation where we can’t even get the parties in the room. There are pre-conditions set by both sides that make real negotiations almost impossible. There are working assumptions by both parties that also make reaching agreement almost impossible. And yet, in my perspective, we have the ideal leadership on both sides to make an agreement.

As an Israeli Jew and as a Zionist, there is no one better to my mind to make peace with the Palestinians than Israel’s current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. There is no one out there who can bring along 70 to 80 per cent of the Israeli public when he makes the concessions that are necessary to have a peace deal with the Palestinians. On the Palestinian side, there has never been a better, more moderate, morewilling leadership than PA President Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salem Fayyad. However, the tragedy of the situation is that we are probably going to lose the Palestinian leadership if we do not engage with them in a serious peace process quickly. When, and if, the Palestinians go to new elections it is not going to be a competition on who is more moderate. The Fatah movement is still in total disarray without any kind of discipline, and the factors that created the environment that enabled Hamas to win a victory in Palestinian elections are still there. Not that a majority of Palestinians support Hamas; they do not. But it is very likely that if there were once again free and fair elections we would have a repeat scenario. Again, this is not because the majority of Palestinians support Hamas. It would be because of the lack of discipline within other Palestinian political movements that are unable to organise themselves as effectively as Hamas.

 

EMPOWERING MODERATES, ISOLATING EXTREMISTS 

LUKE AKEHURST (We Believe in Israel): Given what you have said about Palestinian elections being a competition over who can be more extreme, how do you shift the hearts and minds of Palestinians so they do not vote for those who advocate violence?

GERSHON BASKIN: I believe the answer is engagement and success. We said for years that if we failed to make peace with Fatah we are going to end up dealing with Hamas, and if we don’t engage with Hamas we are going to end up dealing with someone much worse. The best way to dis-empower the extremists is to empower the moderates. The disengagement from Gaza is a classic example. The Palestinians established nine technical committees that worked for months on preparing how they were going to take over Gaza, and the Sharon government refused to engage them. The disengagement was not part of an agreement, it was a unilateral Israeli decision. Therefore, the dominant narrative amongst Palestinians and Arabs about why Israel left Gaza was the Hamas narrative -i.e. the story that Hamas hit the settlements until the IDF left with their tails between their legs. However, if the scenario had been Sharon calling up AbuMazen (Abbas) and saying, “Abu Mazen, we are leaving Gaza, this is non-negotiable. We are going to a press conference to say that we have negotiated a deal and the first base of a Palestinian state will be in Gaza and this is the result of a diplomatic process, ”he would have empowered the moderates. It would have also given power to the diplomatic process and not to the extremists – we need to be conscious of this.

Today we have a situation where Hamas is almost begging for recognition and legitimacy. They are not going to explicitly say ‘yes’ to the Quartet conditions (recognising Israel, renouncing violence and adhering to previous agreements), however, think of how far they have gone so far. They say they want to be part of the PalestinianLiberation Organisation and they understand that the agreements signed between Israelis and the Palestinians are between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. By becoming part of the PLO they have to cope with the agreements signed by the PLO. Hamas Politburo leader Khaled Meshaal has said Hamas is adopting a strategy of non-violent, popular resistance and that the official position of Hamas now is the creation of aPalestinian state in the occupied territories (meaning the 1949 armistice lines). So whilst it is not an explicit ‘yes’,‘yes’ and‘yes’ to the Quartet conditions, it implicitly is a ‘yes’, ‘yes’ and ‘yes’ to those conditions.

Hamas is also saying that they are debating the possibility of becoming the Palestinian branch of theMuslim Brotherhood. This is a smart strategy, as they see the United States and the European Union engaging with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt today, andthey are saying ‘we want that too!’ Hamas are not going to get rid of the Covenant (the Hamas charter), they are not going to deny their history, they are not going to do all these explicit things that are necessary, but they are definitely moving in a positive direction.

The question is whether we are going to engage with Hamas and bring them into the negotiating room? I don’t want to negotiate peace with them. I’ve tried; I know what their positions are, and that it is not going to be possible (at least at the moment). However, I also know that we can make peace with the PLO and if wemake peace with the PLO the conditions are that the Palestinian state is going to be based on the 1967 borders. Therefore, peace can only be implemented in Gaza if the regime, Hamas, accepts the terms. There is no doubt in my mind that the 1.6 million people in Gaza would not agree to abstain from a viable peace process that would give them liberation, freedom and independence. They will not sit by and allow Hamas to deny them the opportunities that will come with real peace.

 

TOWARDS A ‘CULTURE OF PEACE’

ELIZABETH HARRIS-SAWCZENKO (Board of Deputies): The level of ‘hate education’ amongst young Palestinians is intense. If most of the population below the age of 15 are growing up completely immersed in anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda how can you maintain any peace agreement?

GERSHON BASKIN: The question here is what can governments do to create a ‘culture of peace’? Of course a major part of that work is textbooks, which are an expression of the values of a society. If you want to know what a society really believes, read their textbooks.

The issue of teaching hatred in textbooks is heavily exaggerated, however. There is no explicit incitement against Jews in Palestinian textbooks. There are, however, problems. The biggest problems that exist are the same ones that exist in Israeli textbooks (but to a lesser extent): the crime of omission. There is no recognition of the existence of the other’s national rights in either of our textbooks. We very conveniently say that their omission of Israel is intentional and politically motivated because this is what the Palestinians want. I have said to the Palestinian Minister of Education that if you are giving a message to your children that Israel doesn’t exist then there can be no other way of interpreting it than ‘this is what you want your reality to be’. My recommendation to the PA was that if you show a map without Israel in then why not title it as ‘Palestine before 1948’? If you are putting in a Green Line, tell us what it is. Don’t write ‘Palestine’ and then include ‘Tel-Aviv’, ‘Haifa’ and ‘Akko’ on it. You need to give proper messages.

I would also say the same thing to Israel’s education minister. There is no map in Israel that indicates ‘Palestine’, not even the area of the Palestinian Authority (actually there is now one book that has the map of the Oslo agreement in it);. I have arguments with my own kid’s school every single year. My youngest son is now 17, so I only have one more year of arguments! In his school every classroom has a map of the ‘land of Israel’, not the ‘State of Israel’ but on the heading of the map it says “the State of Israel”. Our children don’t know what the Green Line is. Our children don’t know that Israel does not have sovereignty in the settlements. For them the whole of the land of Israel is the State of Israel.

If you want to talk about a ‘culture of hatred’, the ‘culture of hatred’ is the culture in which Palestinian children live . It’s not the textbooks, it’s not the schools; it’s the reality of continuing to live under occupation and not having freedom. This is the reality that they live in. This is also the same reality in which most of the settlers live and how they feel about the Palestinians., just talk to them and listen to what they have to say about Palestinians. We Israelis live in a reality where my17-year-old son is afraid to ride on busses till this day because the reality he grew up in was the reality of the Second Intifada and he is afraid. So if you want to create a ‘culture of peace’ you have to address the reasons why we have fear and hatred in our society ;it’s not just about textbooks. We do also have to address textbooks as they are an expression of government policy, and the government havea responsibility to educate the next generation so they will live in a different reality.

HOW DO WE GET BACK TO THE NEGOTIATING TABLE?

ADAM HUG (Foreign Policy Centre):People have been worrying for the last couple years that time is not on our side as regards maintaining a moderate Palestinian leadership. At the same time, the international community’s chance of facilitating direct talks is limited. And the Israel-Palestine issue is the lowest priority it has been for decades in Israeli political life.  What is going to provide the necessary impetus to the peace process? How are we going to change that narrative before it’s too late and the Palestinian moderates lose out?

BEN GARRETT(Labour Friends of Israel): You said that Netanyahu is in the best position to negotiate a peace deal and on the Palestinian side we do not want to wait until elections because Palestinian moderates will lose out. In terms of getting the current Israeli and Palestinian leaders to do a deal what are the next steps they need to make? How do you get past the impasse without asking the leaders to embarrassingly climb down from their trees?

GERSHON BASKIN: These two questions are more or less the same; what can be done, what are the next steps? The US government has an upcoming presidential election, while EU is trying to save the Eurozone and is consumed with its own problems. I have believed for quite some time that Israelis and Palestinians cannot move forward themselves; they need a third party,  namely the US. The Palestinians have always said they recognise that the US is not an objective, fair, third party but they have also said that the US is the only effective third party. What needs to be done is to put pressure on Israel, and the US is the only party able to do this. Pressure also has to be applied to the Palestinians to get them back to the table and to make reasonisble compromises. I would add that the Americans are the only effective third party because they are the ones who can bring workable solutions and bridging proposals to thetable. Moreover, at the end of the day the bridging proposals will have to be monetarily sustained by the Americans.

Where do we go from now? I believe very strongly in secret back channels. This cannot be a public negotiation. At the beginning of the Oslo peace process,  talks were going on in Washington between an Israeli and Palestinian team, but the real negotiations were taking place in Oslo. The problem is, of course, convincing the parties to engage. Both sides have said that we can’t negotiate this in public. Obviously any concession Netanyahu makes is the end of his coalition, but he can call for general elections, which will then lead to a landslide victory. Abbas is in the same boat. Abbas with an agreement can win a landslide victory if it is a real agreement that addresses all the issues.

THE NARRATIVES AND THE CONFLICT 

J.J. HODARI(BICOM):  Does there need to be a change in the language and the way we conceptualise a solution?

GERSHON BASKIN: If we fail to start talks soon we will have to do conflict management – what Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and others call the long-term interim agreement: basically, ‘we can’t resolve all the big issues of Jerusalem and refugees, and we can’t resolve all the territorial issues, so let’s do what we can’.

This is essentially what we are doing today, and it is a very bad default option because it leads almost automatically to the next round of violence. This is what we are looking atnow.

You know, people do not agree with me. I met yesterday with Lord John Alderdice who was very involved in the Northern Ireland peace process. He is also a psychiatrist by training, and he says you can’t take the patients off the couch too early. I told him, ‘we have been on the couch for 20 years already!’And he said ‘exactly, not long enough’. From his point of view this is a 25-year minimum process, and depending on where you start counting from we are not there yet. Maybe he is right. He has the experience in Northern Ireland and he describes the situation there as still developing – they are still on the couch.

Nevertheless, I have great fears about long-term interim arrangements because it’s not going to meet the requirements and aspirations of either side. It’s not going to have the mechanisms necessary to address breaches when they happen. Moreover, interim agreements increase the power of spoilers.

ALAN JOHNSON: I want to play the sceptic a little bit. There is another narrative, which obviously does not persuade you. I will set it out and you can tell me why it doesn’t persuade you. Israel makes offers, which arguably are in advance of anything they can deliver or anything the publicwill support; real significant offers. And what they have got back is no counter-offers, the Second Intifada, rockets and hate. This response has now led to a collapse of belief that there is a partner out there who is going to respond positively. What is wrong with this narrative? What is wrong with this scepticism?

GERSHON BASKIN: The problem with this narrative, which is the conventional wisdom amongst most of the Jewish community, most Israelis and perhaps most of the world, is that it is not true. The story is only a partial story and there was a brilliant long piece written in Haaretz about two of the people who worked for Ehud Barak at the time of Camp David who shaped Barak’s messaged and created the myth of ‘no partner’. They had no idea how successful that myth would be.

The reality of Camp David is a completely different one than what the public knows. Without going into the details, simply, from a logical point of view, if in July 2000 Barak made the most generous offer possible to the Palestinian’s and they rejected it, then how come six months later, in January 2001, Barak made a much better offer? This is simple logic.

The Camp David negotiations went far further than ever before.  However, the Palestinians told Clinton exactly what was wrong with the offer. It wasn’t that the Palestinians didn’t make a counter-offer; they told Clinton exactly what they wanted and where they were willing to go. The problem was that Clinton, because of Dennis Ross, refused to put the American bridging proposal on the table. When did Clinton finally put his bridging proposal on the table on 23 December 2000, a month from the time that he had to leave office, it was too late, the second intifada was already in full rage.

Since then, the ‘Clinton Parameters’ have become the beacon, the guiding light of the negotiations. The resolution of the conflict, the final agreement that will be made, is based more or less on the Clinton Parameters. However, Bush came into office after Clinton with the saying ‘ABC – Anything But Clinton’– i.e. whatever Clinton said, we will do the opposite.

The conventional wisdom behind the 2005 Israeli disengagement is also only half a story. It is truethat after the disengagement Hamas was elected. However, it is not a simplestory and they didn’t start shooting rockets at us when we left Gaza, they were shooting rockets at us long before we left. They were killing Israeli soldiers and killing settlers when we were in Gaza – that’s why we left.

We tend to take pieces of the story and embellish them, and make a story that is compelling – the Palestinians are always saying ‘no’. The Olmert-Abu Mazen negotiations, which went very far, the closest we have ever been to an agreement, is a very interesting convergence of narratives. Both Olmert and Abu Mazen will tell you it was possible to reach an agreement if they had more time. But Olmert wasthen indicted for corruption – he had to resign and Olmert went to war in Gaza which prevent Abbas from returning to the table. The negotiations did not go forward and Abu Mazen made a foolish mistake of not saying he wanted to continue negotiations on the basis of the previous negotiation with Olmert.However, that is what Abu Mazen is saying today.

The Israeli narrative says the Palestinians rejected the Olmert offer. However, they didn’t reject it – it wasn’t finished. Olmert tried to present a deal during their last meeting as a take it or leave it offer. He showed Abu Mazen the map, but he refused to give it to him. Why? Because he didn’t want to continue negotiations. This was a negotiation tactic; the negotiations were not over. Nevertheless, we have the narrative that the Palestinians rejected peace again. So the [lack of]truth of the narrative makes it one that I cannot buy into; I believe there is a partner. I just believe we haven’t completed the negotiating process yet.

THE POLITICAL EXPLOITATION  OF THE CONFLICT IN THE UK

DAVID HIRSH(Engage): Israelis and Palestinians have a symbolic power and importance outside of the conflict. The conflict  is in principle simple, small, and solvable. But people all around the world are using the Israel-Palestine conflict as a vessel into which they pour their own domestic political considerations. One manifestation of this is the left in Britain today that encourages the Palestinians to abandon the two-state solution. The damage is done by people who use either the Israeli or Palestinian cause as a way of determining their own identity. Nowadays, Israel-Palestine has become a way of doing “orange and green” politics.

GERSHON BASKIN: The problem at the Israeli-Palestinian level, which I will address first, is that the issues are not rational. If it were simply a rational dispute then we could deal with Jerusalem as an urban space. The issue of water, as an example, is a completely technical, economic issue. However, people attach ‘ownership’ to water, which is a ridiculous notion. Everyone has the right to water and we can produce water today cheaply enough to make itavailable for everyone. We don’t have to argue about it anymore; but we do because we attach values to it – the Zionist legacy, making the desert bloom, all these kinds of mythologies that we have developed as part of our national ethos that makes it a lot more difficult to deal with.

I agree with you, David. Yes, the conflict is being exploited by some groups to further fights going on within societies outside the region. I just spent twenty days touring America giving lectures, mostly on college campuses, and there is no issue more divisive, both within the Jewish community and between the Jewish community and other communities, than the issue of Israel and Palestine. What I have found is that most people really want the same thing. The people arguing for Palestine don’t hate Israel they want peace and justice for Palestinians. It is not that they want Israel to disappear. Some of them do, and there is anti-Semitism there as well, but for the most part it is not what it is about. They just can’t find the common language anymore that would enable them to sit in the same room and talk, because the issues have become so divisive.

The externalisation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which becomes poisonous beyond belief, actually sends people backwards not forwards Something about the state of the left in this country, and the messages being sent out to both Israelis and Palestinians, is not helpingIt is not for the people from the bunkers of Islington or Golders Green to tell the Israelis and Palestinianswhat to do. That is what’s happening. The egging on of the one-state solution by people in this country is very significant because  it affects the commentary within this country.

I had a conversation yesterday with Tony Klug. Klug has been one of the strongest advocates of the two-state solution that I have known since the 1970’s. He had a very interesting discussion with a young Palestinian who said he accepted the one-state solution, that was what he wanted. Klug said to the young Palestinian ‘are we talking about a secular democratic state where everyone can live?’ He replied ‘yes’. Klug added, ‘that state is not going to be an Arab state, right? It is not going to be an Islamic state, right?’ The Palestinian responded by saying  ‘What? Of course it is going to be an Arab Islamic state, that’s what we want’. Klug then said to him ‘You realise that the Jews won’t accept that?’

The bottom line is that almost everyone I know who talks about a one-state solution has done nothing to translate that it into reality. Moreover, how do you deal with the fact that  – even if you have increasing numbers of people who say they want the one-state solution –  you still have the overwhelming majority on both sides who don’t want that solution? They want primarily the fulfillment of their national identity in a territory. And that  makes every solution to this conflict except a two-state solution irrelevant. If you talk about a one-state option you are talking about the long-term continuance of the conflict. There is no one-state solution. It might sound good because we have principles of human rights and democracy, etc. But that is not what the discourse is about. Thediscourse is about who controls and whose identity is attached to the territory.

HIRSH: That is what the discourse is about here! Here it’s nothing to do with peace. 

GERSHON BASKIN: But what right do they have to deny the Palestinian people the right of self-determination or to deny the Jewish people the right of self-determination? I would say ‘who are you to tell the Israeli and the Palestinian people what’s best for them?’

HIRSH: You are absolutely right. They embrace the one-state solution not because they want peace in the Middle East. The one-state solution is about political jostling here. So you can’t just say to them ‘well’ it won’t work in the Middle East,’ because they know nothing about the Middle East!

GERSHON BASKIN: Ok, so in that case don’t even engage them. Or if you want to engage them ask them to tell you what it looks like and how you getthere.

NEIL NERVA (The Jewish Labour Movement): There is a real problem about the debate in this country. This is not an  intellectual debate about the worthiness of the one-state solution. People have not even thought what a one-state solution is. It’s almost as if they want to see conflict continuance instead of conflict resolution.

GERSHON BASKIN: I agree. So you have to do a reality check with them. Tell them, what you are offering us is a continuation of the conflict in a much more acute, much bloodier way. The only thing you are offering us isBosnia, an identity conflict. I don’t want to be there.

ALAN JOHNSON: There is an odd phenomena in the UK: being ’more Palestinian than the Palestinians’;  i.e. policing the Palestinian movement from the left. For example,  pressuring the PGFTU (The Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions) when it tries to make the agreement with the Histadrut work, and heaping  abuse on the PGFTU leadership. It’s a real problem.

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE ISRAELI LEFT?!

DAVID HIRSH(Engage): Some people in Israel are embracing an anti-Zionist position, and this seems to be important in the collapse of the Israeli left. I was at a conference where people were taken out for dinner and told to support a boycott of Israel byIsraeli academic. What is the extent of the collapse of the Israeli left?

GERSHON BASKIN: The Second Intifada destroyed the Israeli left. I had a conversation with Marwan Barghouti before he made the decision to attack Israel from inside Israel. He said that if Israel invades Area A, which we consider our sovereign territory, we are going to invade Israel. I said to Marwan, the minute you cross the Green Line and start attacking Israelis inIsrael, the message that you are giving to the Israeli public is that it is not about the occupation,  but the existence of Israel. That is what happened and the Israeli left lost its ability to tell the public that it is about the occupation. The minute they started blowing up buses and cafes and cinemas in Israel, that was the end. There was nothing the Israeli left could do to answer effectively back to the public.

HIRSH: But that is because [the conflict] is not only about the occupation, is it?

GERSHON BASKIN: No, it is still about the occupation. It is not about the question of the existence of Israel. The conflict I believe is about ‘67, not about ‘48. The Palestinians have already in their own mind accepted the existence of Israel in the 1967 borders and the 1949 borders, except for Hamas.

The Israeli left? There area handful of us. Some 300,000 people came out to demonstrate about the price of cottage cheese. However, we can’t get 5,000 people to demonstrate for peace or against settlement building. The left, most people I know who were leftist who were in the peace camp, I now call them ‘peace sceptics’. Everyone wants peace but no-one believes it is possible anymore. It will take a lot of hard work on the ground to make them believe it is possible. And it’s not by having conversations, it is about changing reality; and that is a lot harder to do.

ALAN JOHNSON: Thank you for coming in today, Gershon. BICOM will show case  voices from across the spectrum to help create a more nuanced conversation. Our next conversation is with Alan Baker,  Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and former Israeli Ambassador to Canada. We want to move away from the ‘megaphone wars’ and create intelligent conversation about 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

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About 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.