Gershon Baskin has been a pioneer in forging links between Israelis and Palestinians for years. He even served as an invaluable go-between with Hamas in securing the release of Gilad Shalit. In a recent column in the Jerusalem Post, Baskin addresses the Palestinian Authority and PLO leadership on reports that they are about to declare the Oslo Accords null & void.
First of all, he is honest: “. . . Israel and the PLO signed six agreements, all of which have been significantly breached by both sides. The Oslo process was supposed to be for an interim period of five years before reaching a permanent-status agreement between the sides – that should have happened in 1999 according to the agreed timetable.”
Yet because of its potential for violence and widespread suffering, he advises against such a unilateral measure. If they make such a move, however, he suggests that:
“There is a possible way to mitigate the negative impact of a Palestinian unilateral declaration. …
“The Palestinians should issue a unilateral declaration of peace between the State of Palestine and the State of Israel. They should spell out the terms of the agreement, starting with the end of Israel’s occupation over the Palestinian state. They can declare that the borders of Palestine are based on the Green Line but that they are prepared to negotiate permanent borders with the State of Israel. They should declare that east Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine and that west Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that they are prepared to negotiate how the two capitals will interact and govern Jerusalem in full cooperation. . . . They should call on the citizens of Israel and the world to recognize Palestine and to see these developments as a step toward peace and not as an act of aggression against Israel and its people.”
In almost a complementary way, on July 27, Hilik Bar unveiled a potential step forward for Israel. Bar is no ordinary Member of Knesset. He is Deputy Speaker of that body, Secretary General of the Labor Party and also Chair of the “Knesset Caucus for a Resolution of the Arab-Israeli Conflict” — which includes dovish MKs from a variety of parties, and stands in opposition to the so-called “Land of Israel Caucus.”
His plan urges Israel to recognize Palestinian statehood at the United Nations and then to negotiate in earnest on borders and other outstanding issues. But the process he envisions is multilateral, importantly engaging the Arab League and its Arab Peace Initiative, which has been offered, reaffirmed and refined since 2002, but with no official Israeli response. Among Bar’s bullet points:
- Not responding to the Arab Peace Initiative is one of the greatest diplomatic errors Israel has ever made. It is a mistake that has made us seem as if we were belittling the Arab world and its desire for normalization with Israel.
- The backing of the Arab League for an Israeli-Palestinian accord could greatly assist in Hamas’s acceptance of the agreement, even if it were forced to acquiesce. Hamas could say “no” to Abbas or to Israel, but not to a significant part of the Arab and Muslim world. . . . [including] Qatar and Turkey, virtually Hamas’s last regional allies who also provide the only funding and backing that Hamas has left.
- It is worth remembering that it was the Qatari foreign minister who led the Arab League delegation which affirmed that land swaps are compatible with the Arab Peace Initiative.
- A final status accord supported by the Arab League will probably lead to Hamas splitting into two factions: a faction that accepts the decision of the Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim world; and a faction that continues to aspire to the destruction of Israel.
- A final status accord backed by the Arab League will augment the chance that the militant-recalcitrant faction will be the smaller of the two, and will find itself isolated in the face of the support of countries in the Arab and Muslim worlds, and in the context of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement that obligates the Palestinian state to uphold it.
Bar envisions an undivided Jerusalem as the shared capital of both Israel and Palestine, and urges that those Israelis living in settlements duly negotiated to be outside Israel’s final borders, be allowed the option to remain as citizens of the new Palestinian state, just as Palestinian Arabs live to this day as citizens of Israel.
His ideas on such key issues as resolving the status of Jerusalem and of Palestinian refugees resemble those pioneered in the unofficial but comprehensive Geneva Initiative/Accord launched by Israeli and Palestinian peace activists and moderates in 2003.
Bar’s plan is written in the language of the mainstream Zionist peace movement, reaching out to Israel’s Jewish majority:
“It protects Israel’s security interests, keeps Jerusalem united, solves the refugee problem outside of Israel’s borders, leaves the majority of the settlers in their homes, strengthens Israel’s position in the world, and would boost international support for Israel’s unflinching war on terror. More importantly, this plan resolves the conflict within the framework of a two state solution – two states for two peoples. It ensures Israel will retain a wide Jewish majority, and definitively prevents the possibility of a binational state, the prospect of which would effectively constitute the end of the Zionist idea. ‘Isra-stine’? Not on our watch.”
I’ve previously heard this concern about a “binational state” from a former Meretz MK, Abu (Avshalom) Vilan, and I fully appreciate it. Israeli doves would seem more forward looking, however, if in rejecting a binational state, they also acknowledge a binational reality in Israeli society, with an understanding that Israel’s Arab citizens need to feel more included as Israelis with equal rights, and therefore more invested in their country’s future as the most advanced and tolerant society in the region.
Bar is outlining what Israel should do, and Baskin recommends a course of action for the Palestinian Authority. It remains to be seen if embittered Palestinian leaders are still willing to listen to advice from any Israeli, but these recommendations at least offer ways to move beyond the bilateral efforts which have so clearly failed.
Nevertheless, there must be an Israeli government willing to walk this path, in stark contrast with what we can expect from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition. So there needs to be a dramatic change in the composition and direction of Israel’s government. Still, it’s good to know that some Israelis are working toward diplomatic alternatives.