Gershon Baskin addresses the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation of the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa
The Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation of the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa, is mandated by sections 55 and 92 of the Constitution of South Africa (1996), to oversee and monitor the activities of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (the Department) in execution of South Africa?s foreign policy. In this instance, the Committee resolved to respond to the call by the President in his State-of-the-nation address 2011 for continued support to the efforts by the international community towards a lasting solution to the Israeli/Palestinian issue.
The Committee delegation, led by the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation, Mr HT Magama MP, accompanied by a delegation including Hon. E. Sulliman MP (ANC), Hon. C. September MP (ANC), Hon. M. Booi MP (ANC), Hon. I. Davidson MP (DA), Hon. S. Ngonyama MP (COPE), and Hon. C. Dudley MP (ACDP). The delegation was accompanied by the Committee Researcher Mr D Madlala and Committee Secretary, Mr L Sigwela went on a study tour to both Israel and the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank. between 31 March 2013 to 5 April 2013.
On the tour they met with Gershon Baskin.
Here is an excerpt from the meeting
Address by Dr Gershon Baskin
Dr Baskin told the Committee delegation he was involved in the background talks which led to the Gilad Schalit prisoner exchange. He noted that previous negotiations came close to an agreement, particularly when Olmert and Abbas had talks. Key issues remained territorial in nature but essentially what was sought is two states for two peoples. He told the Committee delegation that Israel did not want a homogenous state, but added that an identity conflict like in Bosnia could emerge if two-states solution is taken off the table. He argued that both Israeli’s and Palestinians support the two-states solution and secret backchannels were key to a solution being reached. He felt that a two-pronged strategy was needed. In his view, key to the solution was PM Benjamin Netanyahu but Dr Baskin felt that he only made decision under pressure so something should be done to create the pressure. He felt that President Abbas’ weakness came from failure to deliver a solution so Israel should assist the process.
The Israeli campaign needed to be public and show strong support for an agreement.
The floor was then opened for questions and comments.
Questions and comments by the Members of the Committee delegation
The Committee delegation began by clarifying South Africa?s position and noting that since 1994, South Africa has supported a two-state solution with Palestine and Israel living side by side peacefully. However, South Africa has been concerned about the expansion of settlement activity because it rendered the creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible. The Committee delegation then enquired about which land was the most disputed and also whether the speakers saw a settlement being on the horizon anytime soon. The Committee delegation then asked about whether mutual recognition would be a major step forward, particularly when considering the refusal of organisations like Hamas to recognise the state of Israel. There was curiosity as to whether there was a widespread view in Israel that the E1 Settlement construction plan should be implemented. The Committee delegation also felt the need to assure the presenters that South Africa did recognise the security concerns of Israel. Comments then shifted to the domestic politics of Israel. The Committee delegation was curious why the message of politicians like Tzipi Livni did not resonate with voters in Israel. Additionally, what the general view was about the settlement construction in the West Bank. There was also concern about how people were being brought into the negotiation process so that it did not merely take place at a political level. Clarity was sought on the rights of Arabs living in Israel and also enquired as to whether Israel would be willing to accept Jordan as custodian of Jerusalem. The presenters were asked to articulate what they felt should be the primary security concerns of Israel. The Committee delegation also wanted to know what the presenters felt would be the deciding factor in facilitating a peace agreement. To conclude this round of questions, the Committee delegation sought clarity on what vision of a two-state solution the presenters wished to articulate on.
Response by Dr Baskin
Agreeing to territorial swaps would minimise the effect of settlements. The problem was the delineation of the borders. When that is resolved settlement activity wouldn’t be a problem. He agreed with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation position, that Abbas negotiates on behalf of Palestinians then when an agreement is reached a referendum and an election can be held. He noted that agreeing what land should be annexed was the central issue.
Dr Baskin told the Committee delegation that he has advised President Abbas to hire a consulting firm based in Tel Aviv which has worked with rightwing political campaigns, in an effort to get their message across to the Israeli general public effectively. Dr Baskin has envisioned open borders for the future. He felt E1 was a serious issue and should not be built, instead E1 should be a place for 190 embassies. Settlements endangered peace but delineation of borders remained a key issue. In his view, Israel has genuine security concerns. Israel didn’t trust the United Nations, so a multilateral force involving countries that they trust would be preferred. Agreements were there, they just need to be implemented. The Geneva Initiative is something that should be looked at again. There was a caucus in the Knesset attempting to deal with the two-state solution. Arab Israelis were not being treated equally, they were drafted into the army but discriminated against even though it was not their fault. He felt Israel should have a partnership with inclusive policies. Israel needed to redefine the state. Israel should be “A State for the Jewish people and all its citizens”. The Parent Circle was considered also a key policy worth looking at.
A vibrant people’s assembly that intervenes and transforms society and addresses the development challenges of our people;
Effective oversight over the Executive by strengthening its scrutiny of actions against the needs of South Africans;
Participation of South Africans in the decision-making processes that affect their lives;
A healthy relationship between the three arms of the State, that promotes efficient co-operative governance between the spheres of government, and ensures appropriate links with our region and the world; and
An innovative, transformative, effective and efficient parliamentary service and administration that enables Members of Parliament to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities.