Gershon Baskin thinks that it is still not too late; It requires our leader to stand up and toss out the window the old mantras that we don’t have a partner and to then build the partnership.
Once again, Raviv Drucker, in part three of his three-part documentary on Hamakor, gave voices to the key Israelis and Palestinians who took part in the faceto- face peace negotiations. My intimate knowledge of previous negotiations reinforces this point. The best way to reach an agreement is to base it on the tradition of talks going back to Taba and the Clinton parameters.
Drucker’s documentary demonstrated just how close the parties were to reaching an agreement during prime minister Ehud Olmert’s term of office. The program documented that Olmert’s offer was not refused by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as the myth goes, but that Israeli and American personalities persuaded the Palestinians to wait for Tzipi Livni to become prime minister and that negotiating with Olmert after he had been indicted would not have value. That might be true, especially because, as we now know, Olmert was convicted, and if his appeal is turned down will soon be going to prison.
What is not known is, had Abbas and Olmert continued negotiating and reached an agreement, as both leaders believe that they would have, would that agreement have stood the test of democracy when brought to the Israeli and Palestinian people.
I believe that the Israeli and the Palestinian people will never vote against a peace agreement that they believe is fair, that addresses their basic needs and that provides security for Israel and sovereignty for the Palestinians, and that will be the nature of any agreement reached.
The gaps between Olmert and Abbas were primarily concerning the size of the territory Israel would annex. The main Palestinian objection to Olmert’s map was the annexation of Ariel to Israel. The Palestinians objected to having a finger 26 kilometers deep into the Palestinian state when they knew that most of the Ariel settlers were “economic” settlers as opposed to ideological settlers and that according to surveys a majority of them would be willing to resettle for fair compensation. The gaps were not about Jerusalem or refugees, as is often claimed. Abbas was willing to declare “end of conflict, end of claims.”
As Olmert stated, regarding refugees Abbas said that he did not want to change the character of the State of Israel, stating that there would not be a significant return of refugees to Israel and implicitly recognizing the Jewish character of the State of Israel.
I know from long discussions with Abbas that the parameters of peace that were relevant during the Olmert talks are valid today. Abbas is even more flexible today on finding solutions for Israel’s security concerns.
He has said to me and to others that the Palestinians are willing to accept any security measures that address the legitimate security concerns of Israel.
Today, it is Abbas who has problems of legitimacy, but unlike Olmert, he is not under criminal indictment.
Yes, he is the leader of the enemy and for Israelis he has become less of a possible peacemaker than previously.
He is not a member of the Zionist movement or a lover of Zion.
He is the leader of Israel’s enemy and will not accept Israel’s narratives or positions. But he remains the leader of the Palestinian people, even with his limited legitimacy. If he were to bring an agreement to his people that looks like the Olmert offer plus closure of the gaps, he would be received as a hero by most Palestinians and the agreement would pass the referendum that he has promised to conduct.
I believe that the agreement would also pass an Israeli referendum after was supported by the chiefs of Israel’s security establishment – the Chief of Staff of the IDF, the head of the Mossad, the head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and others. They would accept it because it would include a demilitarized Palestinian state and security arrangements that would guarantee Israel’s security, based on the lessons of the past. The agreement would be presented by Abbas to the primary Sunni Arab countries and would get their support, leading to immediate recognition and peace between them and Israel. The agreement would be supported by the UN Security Council and be backed by the entire world.
Israel would come out so much stronger than it is today and would enjoy the backing of the majority of Israelis. I note this recognizing that some 30 percent of Israel’s Jewish citizens will automatically oppose any agreement signed with the Palestinians; the agreement will receive close to 70% Jewish support plus the overwhelming majority of Israel’s Palestinian citizens. Israel would turn the clock back on the emerging binational reality which is a disaster for now and for the future. Israel’s young people would see the promise of a future worth staying here for.
All of this can be done – it is all possible.
It requires our leader to stand up and toss out the window the old mantras that we don’t have a partner and to then build the partnership. It is still not too late.
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.