Atlanta’s Limmud offered the Jewish community an assortment of speakers and presenters, most of who were from our own community. But not all.
Thanks to Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, two speakers came all the way from Jerusalem to share their insights into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But these two, Gershon Baskin and Hanna Siniors, the two co-CEOs of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), are not just bystanders to the seemingly insoluble situation in the Middle East. For decades they have been actively involved in bringing the two sides together in peace.
Because the Jewish Israeli and Palestinian speakers had to fly off to Boston at noon on Sunday for another speaking engagement, their panel had to be rescheduled to the early morning. It was unfortunate that more Atlanta Jews did not get a chance to hear them speak. They would have heard rare words of optimism.
Gershon Baskin, who founded IPCRI in January 1988, told us that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the “most researched conflict in the world ever.” He said that the answers and solutions are well known, but that we just need for leadership on both sides to step up to settle the conflict. He noted that both Israeli and Palestinian polls show that the majority of the two peoples would support a settlement –
“if they believed the other side would support it. But neither side trusts the other side.”
He informed us that there are ongoing secret negotiations between the two sides that must remain secret, or the governments on both sides would fall. But he suggests that when those negotiations result in an agreement, Israelis will go to elections and essentially vote on that agreement, while the Palestinians will either go to elections or have a referendum. And he predicts both sides will support the agreement.
Baskin and Siniora don’t always agree. Hanna Siniora, a long-time peace supporter from East Jerusalem as well as a well-established businessman, believes that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority should join a unity government. “I believe Hamas can be moderated, but the present policies are radicalizing them.”
Gershon, like most Israelis, believe that Israel should negotiate with Hamas for a ceasefire, but he doesn’t support a Palestinian unity government.
Gershon, a former American, also urged Atlanta Jews “not to be more extreme than Israelis. If you are pro-Israel, and are concerned with Israel’s survival, democracy and ability to be part of the region where we live, than you are pro-peace and must be in favor of compromise.”
“To be pro-Israel means you also need to be pro-Palestinian. If we don’t enable Palestinians to live in a state of their own, we’re marching up Masada and committing suicide for the Zionist enterprise, for Israel.” And he warned, “We are approaching a time when we cannot separate ourselves from each other.”
Jan Jaben-Eilon is the Atlanta chapter head of Brit Tzedek as well as a member of its national board.
Originally Published in the Atlanta Jewish Times