Gershon Baskin wishes wholeheartedly to all of his Palestinian friends: “I hope that you too will soon be able to celebrate your independence!”
Sixty years! Rising from the ashes and faced with six decades of struggle and war, Israel certainly has a lot to be proud of. Not only is Israel one of the world’s largest producers of news and interests around the world –given our size and the problems we face –but Israel has emerged to be a leading nation in so many fields—agriculture, water technology, high-tech, medical treatment and research, bio-technology, communications, and more. Recently, even Israel’s film industry has attracted international attention and fame. I look forward to our Independence Day celebrations every year. I am proud and pleased that we have this day to celebrate.
Many organisations on the far left have begun to combine Independence Day celebrations with ceremonies to mark the Palestinian Nakba—their national day of tragedy. There are some on the radical left who even call for boycotting Independence Day entirely. While I am considered a veteran “leftist” by many, I will not be there with those who suggest that we should not celebrate our day of independence.
Several times a year, Jewish, Christian and Muslim holidays take place around the same dates. It is customary for me to receive good wishes from many Palestinians and to wish them happy holidays in return. One of the more humorous of these is the annual Pesach greeting I receive from a Fatah leader, who extends his wishes in the traditional Jewish form: Wishing you a happy and a kosher Pesach!
On Independence Day 2001, at the height of the second Intifada, I received a call from a Palestinian friend in Bethlehem, who wished me a Happy Independence Day. This was a first for me. I was literally dumbfounded. I am not often at a loss for words—but I was taken off guard and didn’t know what to say. One year later, being prepared for his phone call, I was able to respond with “I hope that you too will soon be able to celebrate your independence!”
I will be very happy to see the day when the Palestinians have their own Independence Day to celebrate. That day, too, will be a celebration for Israel and for Zionism. Today, being pro-Israel by definition must mean that one is also pro-Palestinian. The fate and future of these two peoples depends on their ability to find a way to live side-by-side in peace—in two separate states. George W. Bush has challenged us to reach agreement by the end of his term in January 2009. At the same time, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will also be finishing his term of office. No one knows for sure when Ehud Olmert will face the end of his term.
Negotiations are ongoing, but there are contradictory reports on their progress. If no agreement is reached by the end of the terms of the two Presidents, it is unlikely Abbas will seek another term. Even if he did seek another term, without an agreement in hand, it is unlikely that he would win an election. The most likely political scenario for Palestine without an agreement is the development of what the Palestinians call “fitna,” or chaos. Fitna will include more intifada, more violence, more suffering, and very likely the rise of Hamas in the West Bank as well.
The only clear potential Palestinian leader in the eyes of the public after Abbas is Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five consecutive life sentences in an Israeli prison. If the Palestinian territories do break down into renewed fighting and violence, it is very unlikely that any Israeli leader would consider releasing Barghouti. Of course, nothing is impossible, and unfortunately we have learned in our history that Israeli leaders often make decisions under violence that they refused to make under much better circumstances (e.g. disengagement from Gaza unilaterally rather than as part of a negotiated agreement).
According to the public mood in Israel today, and from public opinion research, it seems apparent that without an agreement in hand, Olmert stands little-to-no chance of winning an election. Binyamin Netanyahu is the most likely next prime minister in Israel. There seems little chance that Netanyahu would succeed in negotiations where Olmert failed. If the moderate Abbas is no longer in charge, and there is fitna or a Hamas takeover, the chances for the two-state solution would diminish beyond hope, and Israel would find itself in the tragic situation of continuing to rule over territories and a people that it has no desire to occupy.
Netanyahu has his theories that if we improve the economic situation of the Palestinians we can buy their quiet. It should be reminded that both Intifadas broke out at times when the Palestinian economy was on the rise and there seemed to be a lot of hope (economically) among most Palestinians. Nonetheless, the hope of economic prosperity was not enough to squash the lack of hope for political freedom and independence. We would have behaved in exactly the same way—we would never rest if our political freedom and independence was being denied to us, even if our pockets were full of money. There are some things money just can’t buy.
This year on Independence Day, the papers are full of articles about the next 60 years. I am more concerned with the next year or two. If we do not find a way to release our control over the Palestinians in the next year or two, then in 10 years, or twenty, we will be celebrating the independence of the state that will emerge here through bloodshed and struggle—a very different state. It will not be a Jewish state. It will not be a Zionist state. It will not be a state where the Jewish people are a majority.
So on this Independence Day I wish wholeheartedly to all of my Palestinian friends: “I hope that you too will soon be able to celebrate your independence!”
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.