[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]
Friday, April 06, 2007
This week in Israel….. Behind the news with Gershon Baskin
To recognize or not to recognize?
I have been asked by advisors to several foreign governments to comment on what I thought should be the policy of their countries regarding the new Palestinian Authority government. They have also asked me what I thought Israel should do. This is a very challenging question and the answer is not simple. How could any government be asked to recognize another that does not explicitly recognize the right of existence as a nation to the other side? The new Palestinian Authority Government did not explicitly meet the Quartet demands of recognition of Israel, renouncement of terrorism and adherence to agreements already undertaken by the PLO. The new government, however, is clearly an improvement to its predecessor and has taken more than one step forward in meeting the international demands.
There are various levels at which one could relate to the questions surrounding recognition. One level is what is best for the Israeli interests? One could claim that by withholding recognition Israel is continuing to pressure the Hamas to made political reforms that may eventually lead to the full explicit recognition of Israel or, on the other hand, would continue to demonstrate its non-acceptability in the international community by continued denial of recognition of Israel’s right to exist.
One could also claim (and this is my claim) that the very fact of agreeing to meet, to work together, within the framework of relations that are based on the Oslo agreements is, in fact, explicit non-deniable recognition, albeit de facto recognition and not de jure as Israel is demanding. This is of course a two-way street. Hamas has claimed, correctly, that the State of Israel has never formally recognized the right of the Palestinian people to a state of their own. When Rabin and Arafat signed the Oslo Agreement in 1993 and shook hands on the White House lawn with the exchange of letters of mutual recognition, Arafat’s letter contained the sentence: “The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security”; however, Rabin’s letter to Arafat only stated: “the Government of Israel has decided to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and commence negotiations with the PLO within the Middle East peace process.” There is no symmetry in these two statements.
Furthermore, there never has been symmetry in the demands of the Quartet regarding the other two issues as well. Not only do the Palestinians not adhere to the Oslo agreements, Israel does not as well. This is not only the case since the election of the Hamas government. Both sides are guilty of multiple and systematic violations of each and every one of the agreement signed since 1993. Is the Government of Israel willing to adhere to all of the agreements it signed with the PLO? Likewise on the issue of renouncement of terrorism and violence - violence and terrorism are tactics that have been used by both sides over the course of the last years. It is not a question of who started first, the question is whether or not both sides are willing to enter into firm and binding commitments not to use violence and terrorism against the other side? So in summary of this part of the questions, there is justification to make demands that are reciprocal and mutual and not only on one of the parties.
There is also relevance in highlighting a differentiation between the Government of the Palestinian Authority and its political platform and the Hamas party or movement and its political platform. Hamas is the senior member of the PA governing coalition; however the Hamas Charter is not the Charter of the Government. The Government’s platform clearly states: “the government shall respect the international legitimacy resolutions and the agreements that were signed by the PLO”. This is a very significant shift away from the Hamas Charter which states: “Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Abusing any part of Palestine is abuse directed against part of religion. Nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its religion…There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors. The Palestinian people know better than to consent to having their future, rights and fate toyed with.”
The PA government has accepted the Arab Peace Initiative as of the Palestinian National Reconciliation document. The Arab Peace Initiative provides for what I call “conditional explicit recognition of Israel” or in other words, if Israel agrees to make peace with the Arab countries based on the accepted international parameters, the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world are willing to grant full recognition, diplomatic relations and normalization to Israel in return.
From the point of view of realpolitik it is also important to recognize the fact that several very important countries such as the UK and Norway have already recognized the PA Government and have opened significant cracks in the Israeli wall of resistance. At this point it is important to question costs and benefits to Israel from further withholding recognition. In my estimation there is potentially a lot more to gain at this point than to lose from recognizing the PA Government and returning to the frameworks of the Oslo agreements. The first and perhaps most important gain is that the Palestinian Authority would be forced to face its responsibility in returning Gaza to a situation of law and order. This is one of the most clear and real dangers facing both Palestinian and Israeli societies. Putting aside the question of recognition allows us to return to the table, to negotiations, to the implementation of agreements, to the reformation of all of the 26 joint working bodies and institutions created by Oslo including all of the bodies concerned with security coordination and cooperation.
A new campaign for new security policies at Israel’s airport
Having traveled all around the world over the past few months including flights to and within the United States, I have experienced the length and breath of security procedures in use since 9/11. It is clear that the entire world has gone crazy. Following all of my experiences in so many airports, I would not longer claim that the Ben Gurion airport is the most secure airport in the world. I would claim, however, that the certain aspects of security procedures at Ben Gurion airport are the most intrusive, rude and humiliating in the world. The task and duty of security personnel at airports around the world is to guarantee the safety and the security of the flights and the passengers going through that airport. That should be the basis of procedures of which no one can object. Airport security personnel have the right and the responsibility to ensure that every passenger and every piece of luggage or carry-on bag has been fully checked and that they do not contain or hold any weapons or explosives or elements that can cause an explosion. Airport security apparatuses should use every means of hi-tech equipment that is safe in order to carry out their duties. No one can object to submitting to magnometers or sniffers or any other kind of safe x-ray machinery that will verify the safety of the flights.
Ben Gurion airport and in some cases flights that go to Israel from other countries that use Israeli airport security protocol go way beyond these legitimate procedures by delving into extremely intrusive personal interviews that have absolutely nothing to do with the security of the flight. Where a person was born, or where they studied, or what their religion is, or where their grandparents come from or any other of the many humiliating questions asked are none of their business and have nothing to do with security. It is time to raise this issue and to demand that Israel’s airport security protocol work in accordance with acceptable international standards. I will make a point in the future of stating clearing when asked questions beyond the acceptable norm such as where the bags were until I arrived at the airport, if I am holding a weapon or if I packed my own bags, to state that the question is none of their business. I will raise this issue in public and demand that changes of policy and protocol be made.
Gershon Baskin is the Co-CEO of IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. www.ipcri.org