With my old friend Hanna Siniora, Gershon Baskin co-directs IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.
IPCRI, founded in Jerusalem in 1988, is the only joint Palestinian-Israeli public policy think-tank in the world. It is devoted to developing practical solutions for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
IPCRI deals with the cardinal issues in the Israeli-Arab conflict – issues where the two sides find themselves at loggerheads, and where cooperation is necessary.
In recent articles in Yediot Ahronot and the Jerusalem Post, Baskin makes some important points regarding peace between Israel and Palestine. In his Jerusalem Post article, Baskin affirms his Zionist vocation and dedication to “the existence of State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.” In other words, Baskin is within the mainstream of the Israeli peace camp.
I have been called everything from a self-hating Jew to a post-Zionist. I am neither. I am and have always been very Jewish and very Zionist. The main motivations behind all of what I believe are in fact both my Jewish identity and my Zionist one. For me the existence of State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people is the ultimate expression of the national strategic interests of the Jewish people. It is an expression of our liberation and our determination to be a free people in our land. But Israel cannot fulfill the national strategic interests of the Jewish people if it is a state built on oppression, persecution and denial of the national rights of another people.
Baskin’s restatement of these beliefs, with which I have identified myself for my entire adult political life, I hope make clear that coming to terms with Israel, and Israelis, cannot realistically be based on insisting on demands, such as “one state” or a “right of return,” that negate Israel’s character, or at least aspiration, to be a democratic and Jewish state.
Baskin answers his Israeli critics by asking them for a practical alternative:
FROM ALL of my critics I have yet to understand in practical terms what they propose as an alternative to serve the interests of Israel and the Jewish people. I don’t believe that there are real Jews who could even think of the possibility of removing the Palestinians from here by force. There is the notion of “transfer by choice” – a ridiculous idea based on the suggestion that if we make their lives so intolerable, they will chose to pick up and leave on their own.
Baskin’s critics, IMHO, have no good answer.
In his article for Yediot, Who’s at fault? Israel bemoans absence of Palestinian partner, but we are partly to blame, Baskin directly engages the issue of the occupation and presses The June 5th Initiative. As I do not have permission to reproduce Baskin’s article, my direct quotations from it are necessarily limited.
Baskin begins with the near-universal opposition to the occupation:
The anti-Zionist movement is picking up speed. The entire world is against the occupation. The good news is that the State of Israel is also against the occupation – its people and government seek peace with the Palestinian people on the basis of “two states for two peoples.” Speaking at the United Nations in September 2005, Prime Minister Sharon said that the Palestinian people are “entitled to freedom and to national sovereign existence in a state of their own.”
Even though, as Baskin argues, “there is no point in signing a peace agreement when the Palestinian government has no ability to fulfill its obligations,” and the Palestinian government is divided between a president — Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) — who wants to make peace but cannot and a government “mostly made up of a radical Islamic movement that seeks Israel’s destruction,” it is no answer for Israel to deny the existence of a peace partner on the Palestinian side, especially because Israel’s own actions have weakened, and continue to weaken, Abbas’s position.
Proof of this is the situation in the Gaza Strip: Israel argues that Abbas controls tens of thousands of uniformed police officers, who fail to curb the Qassam rocket attacks. Is that indeed the case? His loyalists have not been paid regularly for more than a year now. The Palestinian Authority’s government system has collapsed a long time ago. Gaza Strip residents live without any personal or social security. They can see neither political nor economic horizon. . . . Perhaps Israel does not bear direct responsibility for this situation, yet it is certainly a direct result of its policy. The complete lack of Palestinian Authority control in Gaza threatens its hold over the West Bank as well. Similarly, the weakening of the moderate and non-religious parts of Palestinian society boosts the radical Islamic sectors not only in Palestine, but rather, across the region.
As an immediate proposal, and noting that both senior Israeli officials and the international community trust the new Palestinian Finance Minister, Salam Fayyad, Baskin urges the release of the $600 million in Palestinian tax revenue that Israel currently holds. “Injecting USD 600 million into the Palestinian economy would have had an immediate positive effect on the grim situation and would have greatly assisted in boosting the president and his moderate forces.”
Baskin also calls on Israel to recognize the Palestinian national unity government and to reopen the Rafah crossing point into Egypt, so that Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are no longer completely dependent on Israel.
And Israel should engage itself constructively in the diplomatic peace-making process:
We must also declare that the State of Israel accepts the Arab peace initiative as a basis for restarting negotiations. We must declare that the negotiations will start with the ratification of the Clinton parameters, which moderates the Arab Initiative through the notion of territorial tradeoffs instead of clinging to the 1967 borders. We must declare that any improvement in the conduct of Palestinian Authority security arms will be rewarded with an Israeli redeployment outside towns and villages, including the removal of roadblocks.
IMHO, Baskin is completely on target. I would hope that self-styled friends of both Israel and Palestine could unite in supporting his proposals. Indeed, this why, like Baskin in addressing his fellow Israelis, I have been asking “pro-Palestinian” critics of an end-of-conflict peace settlement modeled on the Clinton Peace Parameters or the Geneva Initiative to explain in practical terms how they propose to achieve their desired solution either peacefully or non-peacefully, considering the demonstrated willingness and ability of Israelis to defend their state, the structure that grounds their collective life.
Like Baskin, I have yet to see or hear an answer that I can understand. Some people look askance at my insisting on asking these uncomfortable questions, even though I am just as insistent in posing Baskin-like questions on the rare occasions when I run across a “pro-Israel” comment advocating a position inconsistent with Palestinian national self-determination.
All I can say is that, most members and supporters of the Israeli peace camp are, in the words of the late Yehoshafat Harkabi, doves with talons. We have been, and will be, strong, consistent allies in any peaceful struggle for a Palestinian state based on acceptance, at least on a going forward basis, of Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish state. We do not even require abandonment of dreams of a future Palestinian right of return to Israel and of a single state. But we do insist both on peaceful means and not counter-posing those dreams to practical efforts to immeasurably improve the lives of both peoples, particularly the Palestinians, by achieving two states for two peoples, living together in peace.
Hat-tip to Eileen Fleming for drawing my attention to the two Baskin articles.