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.
“Ofer Kot, #10 on the Green Movement – Meimad’s list of candidates for Israel’s Knesset, spent election day in February handing out the movement’s fliers to people at voting stations – as they were on their way out.
When asked why he was giving election fliers to people who had already voted, he replied: “To get people ready for the next elections.”
An interview on Green Prophet – carried out shortly after the elections and posted just recently – with Daniel Orenstein of Israel’s Green Movement
This is a few days old now, but it is worth knowing. Gershon Baskin is the CEO of the Israel/Palestine Centre for Research and Information a candidate for the Israel Green Movement-Meimad party. On the eve of the Israeli elections he revealed that he had been involved with secret government-approved back-channel talks, to which Hamas eventually consented two weeks before the war, about renewing the ceasefire.
His is a voice for political negotiation rather than military action – and a Green Movement voice.
On the Israel Green Movement-Meimad’s unofficial blog, Daniel discusses the election results.
See too Jonathan Freedland’s video report from The Guardian discussing the significance of the party with the biggest share of the vote being on the losing side of the political divide, and criticising the pure PR political system where the politicians end up answering to each other rather than their voters.
An Israeli voter considers the choices, spending a lot of time criticising the main players before ending:
“Of course, my most natural bedfellows are Meretz-Yachad, but they remain too elitist, and I can’t stand Amos Oz playing Ovadia Yosef to the café-dwellers. Which leaves Meimad-Yeruka [we’ve been referring to them as Israel Green Movement-Meimad] an intriguing hybrid of environmentalism and liberal orthodoxy. They first caught my eye in Umm-el-Fahm, when a long time Arab Hadash voter told me he was considering switching his allegiances to the new boys. Their central contention is that the environment is the only issue which can actually unite the whole country, and it’s with this banner that they’re trying to win over voters from across the ethnic and political divide. They’re not bound to the old ideological assumptions, and their presence in an increasingly stagnant political arena is refreshing. The question is will they pass their threshold, or will supporting them be a wasted vote?”
Anxiety about the environment cuts across all local and national conflict, and environmentalists in the Middle East understand that it is simply not possible to isolate each other. Such a sense of a shared existence is the bedrock of a peaceful resolution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
At the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies in Israel’s Negev Desert, Palestinian, Israeli, Jordanian and American Environmental Studies students consider coexistence and ask “Where do we go from here“? These students give some of the most powerful arguments for peace that I have read in a while.
“The recent violence in Gaza and southern Israel has weighed heavily on the students here – possibly the only place in Israel where Palestinian and Israeli students continue to look each other in the eye day-to-day and ponder their common present and future. Needless to say, their studies, as in the rest of Israel and Palestine, have been disrupted directly and indirectly by tragic current events. But here, uniquely, we are trying to use the event to strengthen our collective vision, rather than further divide.
Within the context of our pre-scheduled lecture on regional environmental policy (with guest lecturer, Green Movement-Meimad candidate Dr. Shmuel Brenner), I asked the students three questions regarding their vision of the future for the region, and how we we get from where we are now to where we want to be.”
Read the whole thing on Greener Israel, the unofficial blog of Israel’s new political party, the Israel Green Movement – Meimad.