Gershon Baskin believes that the Palestinian leadership has reached a new crossroad – and they must make a choice in which direction to lead.
The fall of Gaza to Hamas has thrown the Palestinian people into its worst crisis since 1967. With every crisis there are usually new opportunities and those must be investigated and pursued, if possible. Gaza is lost, for the time being and there is little that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah can do to immediately change the course of events. The present focus must now be on the West Bank and on saving the Palestinian people from additional unnecessary disasters and nightmares. There is now an opportunity to contrast the horrors of Gaza with a new reality in the West Bank that could serve as an example and focal point for positive Palestinian energies.
The Palestinian leadership in Ramallah should detach itself from Gaza (for the time being). If, at the same time, the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and East Jerusalem would issue the following ten-point plan, a new future of promise and hope could be turned into a reality that would be the best possible way to serve the interests of the Palestinian people. The following is the proposed ten point plan:
1. The Palestinian leadership of the West Bank and East Jerusalem’s should declare that it is their intention is to establish an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that will live in peace with all of its neighbors.
2. The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and East Jerusalem recognizes Israel’s right to exist, adheres to all of the agreements that have been signed between the PLO and the State of Israel and renounces all forms of violence.
3. The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and East Jerusalem calls for the Government of Israel to renew permanent status negotiations immediately that will convene with the assistance of the Quartet and will proceed without interruption until agreements are reached and ratified by both sides.
4. The Palestinian leadership calls on the Government of Israel to immediately release all of the tax revenues which are being held by Israel and to transfer them to the Palestinian treasury account in Ramallah. The leadership calls on Israel to also release Palestinian prisoners to the West Bank, especially those who were arrested prior to the establishment of the Palestinian authority in 1994 and other prisoners who state their agreement to live under the new realities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and are willing to live in peace with all of their neighbors.
5. The Palestinian leadership calls on the governments of the world to renew their diplomatic relations and financial support for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
6. The Palestinian leadership calls on the governments of the world to provide humanitarian support for the people of Gaza through various international aid agencies and calls on the Government of Israel to allow food and medical aid that will reach the people of Gaza directly to enter Gaza.
7. The Palestinian leadership will make preparations for new elections in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that will be held within three months. In those elections, only political parties that accept the recognition of Israel, adhere to previous international agreements and commitments, support democracy and renounce violence will be allow to participate in the elections.
8. Recognizing the mistakes of the past, the Palestinian leadership is immediately implementing a plan to unite all Palestinian security forces into one singular force under the direct command of the political echelon. The number of troops will be greatly reduced so that the new government will focus its attention on development, building the new state, education, health and welfare. The law of holding unauthorized arms will be strictly enforced and the first task of the Palestinian security force will be to collect unauthorized arms. The Palestinian government, with the assistance of foreign governments will engage in an aggressive public campaign to collect arms, through public media and education and through the enforcement of the law.
9. In accordance with the peace directive of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, all forms of incitement against peace and against Israel will be prohibited. The government of Palestine will immediately advance programs of educational reform that will introduce education for peace with Israel at all grade levels and in all schools. This campaign will include the public owned media as well and will prove without any doubt that the people of Palestine are determined to make peace.
10. The actions of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and East Jerusalem will seek to create a new reality in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that will serve as the primary inspiration to the Palestinian people of Gaza to overthrow the Hamas government in Gaza and to once again unite the Palestinian people and lands so that eventually the Palestinian state to be established in the West Bank and East Jerusalem will include Gaza as well.
With such a platform placed on the table by the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel should immediately respond in accordance with the Palestinian requests: release tax revenues, release prisoners, reopen full diplomatic relations including permanent status negotiaitons, assist in the creation of a new security reality by removing checkpoints and road closures throughout the West Bank and even declare that Israel will freeze the further construction of the security barrier pending future assessment. Israel should make all efforts to assist in the creation of new promise and hopes for the people of Palestine and for the people of Israel.
Public opinion research on the Israeli public recently conducted by IPCRI has clearly demonstrated that if the Israeli public truly believed that the Palestinians were sincerely interested in peace, they would be willing to make the concessions necessary to secure a peace agreement with the Palestinians. The most convincing action that Palestinians could take that would convince the Israelis, according to the research, is the adoption of peace education in schools and in the media. For Israelis, that is a true reflection of the values of the society and such a program would demonstrate to the Israeli people and to the international community that the Palestinian people are ready for peace. Israel would have to respond swiftly and with sincere intent that would strengthen the commitment for peace amongst Israelis and Palestinians alike.
The alternative to the above proposal is only more disasters and suffering for all Palestinians and for all Israelis. The recent events are far from the best scenario and from a Palestinian perspective represent a colossal tragedy. The Palestinian leadership has reached a new crossroad – and they must make a choice in which direction to lead. There are always more than two alternatives, but those alternatives lead either in the direction of hope and peace or towards more despair and suffering. Leadership is about making tough decisions. Crises provide opportunities for real change and this is the time for change.
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.