Israeli Green Gershon Baskin: will Israelis ever accept the Arab peace initiative

Gershon Baskin  is a former parliamentary candidate for the Israel Green Movement / Meimad and co-director and founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI). He recently revealed that he had been involved in back-channel negotiations with Hamas before Kadima opted for an Israeli incursion into Gaza. He persistently puts up political alternatives to military activity.

In this Open Democracy piece he makes the case for the Arab peace initiative, for which he is a strong advocate, and explains the intensely security-minded world view which is preventing ordinary Israelis from engaging with it.

“Since the initiative has been widely overlooked by Israeli politicians it is certainly worthwhile pointing out its primary advantages and reasons why Israel should accept it quickly before it is no longer relevant. The Arab Peace Initiative was accepted unanimously by all of the member states of the Arab League in March 2002.  On the day that it was presented thirty people were killed and 140 injured – 20 seriously – in a suicide bombing in the Park Hotel in the coastal city of Netanya, in the midst of a Passover holiday seder with 250 guests. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. This attack was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back that led to the ‘Defensive Shield’ Israeli offensive leading in turn to the full re-occupation of the West Bank and the placing of Palestinian President Arafat under siege in the muqata’ in Ramallah. The Israeli mindset, at that time when suicide bombing were a daily event and under the leadership of Prime Minister Sharon was hardly in any mood to consider an Arab peace initiative.

But the initiative was once again unanimously ratified at the meeting of the League of Arab States in Khartoum in May 2006 and again in 2007 in Riyadh.”

This piece is good at articulating the circumstances but is as challenged by the task of “bridging this gap in consciousness” as the peace camp is in general. From the middle of the piece:

“This [Arab peace initiative] is almost too good to be true and had it been presented 20 years ago, it might have been received much more positively in Israel. But today, there is no peace camp in Israel anymore. Israeli society has lost its faith in peace.  Israelis no longer dream of getting into their car and having humus for lunch in Damascus. Israelis do not want to visit Cairo or Amman and do not particularly care if Jordanians or Egyptians come to visit Israel. If President Mubarak and King Abdallah II don’t want to come to Jerusalem, so be it.  Israelis no longer believe that giving up territory will bring peace.  The general Israeli interpretation of the ‘territory for peace’ scheme is that we withdrew from areas in the West Bank and created the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat which then attacked us with weapons that we provided for them. In Gaza, which Israel left entirely – withdrawing both settlements and military, we got qassam rockets in exchange.  Whether this reflects what really happened and why is not relevant. This is the way that the overwhelming majority of Israelis understand that reality.  So, in this context, the Arab Peace Initiative is not particularly attractive.”

How to go about building a sense of hope and commitment to pursuing a peaceful solution in a population which perceives existential danger? Put up a different narrative of opportunity and hope.

Read Gershon Baskin’s piece.

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