Gershon Baskin believes that if we had an Israeli partner who was willing to play along with the Arab Peace Initiative, we could throw the ball of Gaza over to the Arab League, and say ‘do what you did during the civil war in Lebanon’ – send in a multi-national force to disarm Hamas.
Veteran Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin has said that Gaza is once again on the brink of exploding and the only way to break the cycle of violence is by opening up the economy of the Strip.
In London this week on a speaking tour, Mr Baskin, who has connections at the highest level within both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, said: “The conditions that led to the 2014 war exist again today”, not only because Hamas is restocking its weaponry but also because of the “abject poverty in Gaza and thousands of students with no hope for a decent job… It’s just a matter of time before Gaza explodes again.”
He argued that the war with Hamas in 2014 had only made the terror group stronger: “Today the military wing of Hamas is more in charge than they were before the war, they overrule the political wing.”
Instead, Israel had to “reach over the heads” of Gaza’s leadership and open up the economy.
“Because Gaza and the West Bank are almost totally dependent on Israel, Israel should use its leverage to make Palestinian lives better – not as a quid pro quo but because it’s in the interests of Israelis.
“The majority of people in Gaza do not support Hamas, they are sick of that regime. Israel can reach out to those people through the private sector, through the business community, through the middle class, through the farmers who could export to Israel and the West bank.
“I am not saying, increase the number of work permits. But let’s reconnect their economy. There’s no money for them to buy anything, they need income, they need a link to the rest of the world.”
Mr Baskin highlighted the existence of a large-scale sewage plant in Gaza built using international donations that is currently not running because it does not have enough power.
“It needs 3MW of electricity, there’s sewage from Gaza that’s spilling into the sea that’s ending up on the beaches of Tel Aviv. It’s insane that we’re not giving them the 3MW of electricity.”
Another way Israel could easily improve the lives of Gazans is to upgrade their water supply.
Mr Baskin said:
“According to World Health Organisation, by 2020 there’s not going to be any drop of humanly fit water left in Gaza. Meanwhile, the Ashkelon desalination plant is under-producing. Let’s sell them water, and not make it a negotiation or an exchange, except for the money that it’s going to cost them to buy the water.”
Mr Baskin said that he talks to senior members of the Palestinian Authority on daily basis. He recently supported an initiative created by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to work with the PA finance ministry on finding ways to improve the West Bank economy. “It’s the only high-level engagement that is happening, aside from the security cooperation.”
He said he had been trying “for years” to get backchannel peace talks running between the Israeli and Palestinian governments.
“We weren’t able to get Netanyahu to meet through any back channel, so I delivered messages to other senior people in Likud who had to get permission to go and talk to Abbas or someone close to him, and they got vetoed by Netanyahu. I’m still trying.”
Mr Baskin reiterated his belief that Israel should take up the Arab Peace Initiative as a basis for peace negotiations.
“Everyone in the region recognises that there is a convergence in interests between Israel and a lot of its neighbours. It’s being done secretly through the intelligence services but we have the opportunity to go beyond this, to work with the inner circle of Egypt and Jordan, and then on to the Gulf states and the Saudis.
“If we had an Israeli partner who was willing to play along with the Arab Peace Initiative, we could throw the ball of Gaza over to the Arab League, and say ‘do what you did during the civil war in Lebanon’ – send in a multi-national force to disarm Hamas.”