Gershon Baskin reveals the story behind the secret backchannel that took place between Hamas and Israel leading to the prisoner’s exchange and Schalit’s release in October 2011. The role of Israeli academic and Co-Director of the Israel Palestine Centre for Research and Information Gershon Baskin was crucial in facilitating a trustworthy and ‘human’ channel of communication between the two parties that took years of relentless efforts to foster and achieve its final goals.
In this informal interview conducted by Israeli journalist Nathan Jaffay, Baskin discusses how he went from being a “stupid, naïve American” that made aliyah in the 70s, to becoming an advocate for peace through his work at the Israeli Ministry, the foundation of a groundbreaking joint Israeli-Palestinian think tank, and ultimately his role in mediating a prisoners deal between the two rivals Hamas and Israel.
Working as a ‘free agent’, Baskin explains the setbacks he encountered during his unofficial talks with Hamas spokespersons; from dealing with Israeli negligence and unwillingness to negotiate with ‘terrorists’, finding creative ways to meet Hamas and Israeli demands, maintaining an open line of communication, seeking recognition and legitimacy to proceed with a deal, and overcoming personal and emotional obstacles.
Embraced by a broad spectrum of Israeli political and ideological fractions upon the conclusion of the prisoner’s swap, Baskin’s persistence and good faith brought back to surface the important role peace mediators and academics play in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This event was supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands.
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.