Activists, including Israelis and Palestinians, take part in a demonstration in support of peace near Jericho. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Speaking peace out loud and all over

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Gershon Baskin believes that since the birth of the State of Israel and the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, we (both) have been on the path of choosing death, not life.

For the 38 years that I have lived in Israel I have always defined myself as a loyal citizen of the state. There is no other place in the world in which I want to live. During all of that time I have fought against the occupation of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza and worked for peace and cooperation between Israel and its Arab neighbors – first and foremost the Palestinians. I have always recognized that all of the land between the River and the Sea is the Land of Israel, but have always recognized too that all of that land is also the land of Palestine.

I have always demanded that Palestinians recognize my rights as a Jew to self-determination and a territorial expression of my identity on the land of Israel. I have also demanded that we recognize the Palestinian people’s rights to self-determination and for a territorial expression of their identity on the land of Palestine.

I came to the same conclusion in 1975 that the international community adopted in 1937 and again in 1947: that the only way that both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people can achieve self-determination and a territorial expression of their identity is through partitioning the land into two states. I have always believed that compromise is existentially essential for both peoples to continue to live on the land that they believe belongs to them. I have also believed that if one or both of the sides claim exclusivity, that the land belongs only to them, we would end up continuing to kill each other rather than choosing life and prosperity for our two peoples.

Since the birth of the State of Israel and the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, we (both) have been on the path of choosing death, not life.

I have spoken my views on this subject locally and internationally. I have spoken in the European Parliament, in the United Nations, to presidents, kings, queens, princes and elected officials. I have spoken to Israeli prime ministers, ministers, chiefs of staff and to people of all walks of life all over the country.

I have spoken with Palestinian presidents, ministers and security officials, and Palestinians of all walks of life all over Palestine, including in Gaza. I have never hidden my opinions or tried to avoid speaking to all people all over who can and must take action to assist Israelis and Palestinians to reach an end to this conflict, which means ending the occupation, and securing peace between the people of Israel and the people of Palestine. This is the most loyal thing that anyone who loves their country can do.

Continuing the occupation is the primary existential threat to the State of Israel. There is no simpler way of putting it. The failures of Oslo are not an excuse for continuing to occupy land which many may believe is part of our birthright as Jews but cannot be a justification for negating the reality that millions of Palestinians are living under Israel’s control being denied their basic human and political rights, rights that almost every Israeli would be willing to fight, kill and die for. It will always take two sides to make an agreement, and the genuine difficulties regarding the Palestinian leadership and divided political house do not excuse Israel and its leaders from doing everything possible to advance solutions to this conflict.

Instead, the government of Israel and its leaders are doing everything possible to prevent the possibility of any partnership on the Palestinian side. Speeches about wanting peace, even if given in the United Nations by the prime minister, are not a replacement for policies that can change the reality on the ground.

Settlement building must stop – even in areas that Israel assumes will be part of the State of Israel after an agreement with the Palestinians. Israel’s policies and practices of control over the Palestinians must be rolled back and instead of speeches about wanting peace, engagement with Palestinian leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas must take place. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows very well how to do that and as soon as he really wants to engage, he will find the paths to engage.

The key to real engagement and moving forward is an Israeli declaration that the two-state solution Netanyahu says he supports will be based on the borders that existed prior to June 5, 1967. The exact delineation of borders will be determined in negotiations.

Jerusalem will be the capital of both countries – two capitals in one open city. Holy places in Jerusalem and throughout Israel and Palestine will be under God’s sovereignty and not national sovereignty and will be open to all who view those places as holy to them.

The Palestinian refugee problem will be negotiated between the parties and declarations regarding the outcome of those negotiations before they even begin are counterproductive to dealing honestly and humanely with the issue. Both sides must work to encourage cooperation and interaction between their societies and economies even from now, even before agreements are reached, because such positive engagement will not only build constituencies for peace, it will build peace itself.

Most Israelis and most Palestinians no longer believe that peace is possible. Perhaps a majority on both sides thinks that the two-state solution is no longer relevant or possible. But what choices are there? None really. This is the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its resolution is an imperative for the survival of both peoples. We both have no real other choices. The push won’t come from the people – they are too convinced that there is no partner. It can only come from the leadership and the sooner the better because real human lives are at stake.

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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