[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]

 

June 26, 2006

 

This week in Israel….. behind the news with Gershon Baskin

 

We are linked together

 

The Palestinian attack on a base near Kerem Shalom yesterday causing the deaths of two soldiers and the kidnapping of another has brought us closer to the brink of a new round of tragic escalation that will lead us to nowhere politically.  It should not surprise anyone that the timing of the attack was very close to the beginning of the recognition that the internal Palestinian national dialogue was about to fail. The divisions within the Palestinian camp are once again taking their toll on the lives of Israelis.

 

It is true that from the Palestinian perspective there is no shortage of reasons, in the past weeks, to feel the need to take revenge against Israel, however; in the backdrop of the internal Palestinian national dialogue, there was at least an attempt to rebuild consensus for the continuation of the tahdiya. It seems that the Hamas leadership, at least that part of the leadership represented by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was not interested in the attack.  He probably had no early information about the attack, but his hands are also tied in terms of his ability to prevent it and probably very limited in his ability to bring about the release of Gilead Shalit – the kidnapped soldier.  A few short hours after Ismail Haniyeh had called for putting an end to the shooting of Qassam rockets into Israel,  Sami Abu Zuhri, the Hamas spokesman representing Khaled Mashal, denied that there had been an agreement to stop the Qassams and called for Palestinian fighters to continue their actions.  Haniyeh’s position is severely compromised by the attack, perhaps one of the reasons why it took place at this time.

 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is becoming increasingly irrelevant as well – from an internal Palestinian point of view. He was ridiculed by the Palestinian public twice this week – once for hugging Ehud Olmert at the Petra summit last week while Israel was continuing the daily so-called targeted killings in Gaza and a second time after Israel’s announcements regarding the transferring of Jordanian supplied weapons to Abass’ Presidential Guards in order to strengthen Abass was also ridiculed.  Who is he supposed to use those arms against, Palestinians asked?  

 

Olmert’s announcement that he would be willing to meet Abass in the coming weeks for negotiations seems even more unlikely and futile as Israel views Abass directly responsible for the attack yesterday and holds him now to the task of ensuring the release of Shalit.  Egyptian mediators are working behind the scenes to secure the release of the soldier which is probably a lot more than Abass is capable of doing. Abbas has no ability, it seems, to secure the release of the soldier.  His intelligence capacities in Gaza are quite limited, especially concerning Hamas and if he is not willing or not able to use the forces under his control to search every home in southern Gaza for the kidnapped soldier, then the whole kidnapping affair serves to further weaken his leadership.  If he does use his military capacities to find the soldier, most Palestinians would most likely view him once again with ridicule.  Abass is in a lose-lose situation and with his possible demise, the future of a bilateral negotiated political process between Israel and the Palestinians seems to be in demise as well.

 

Israelis are all asking who is in charge in Palestine and the answer seems to be – no one. Calls in Israel are on the rise for a deep and intensive military action in Gaza including the killing of Hamas leaders – the Prime Minister being the first target.  Many Israelis expected that following the 100% withdrawal of Israel from Gaza that the Palestinian desire to hit Israel from Gaza would diminish.  Palestinians respond to this that the occupation has not finished, not in Gaza and not in the West Bank, and that the struggle for freedom and liberation must continue until all of the West Bank and Gaza are free. The attempts of some of the more moderate parties participating in the Palestinian national dialogue to limit Palestinian attacks against Israel within the West Bank have apparently failed. Yesterday’s attack was a clear message to Fateh forces that they have no control and no ability to prevent other factions from acting independently.

 

The current situation in Palestine did not develop suddenly out of nowhere.  The chaos and lack of the ability of a central authority to govern is a result of the political-security developments and negative interactions between the Palestinians and Israelis over years.  Palestinians have a lot of responsibility for their own situation, but Israel too holds a great deal of responsibility.  Now that Israel has come to the decision that it does not wish to rule over the Palestinians, we are faced with the dilemma of to who we can turn over the authority for governing the territories.  The coming escalation will not resolve that issue, it will only make it more complicated and will leave Israel in a situation where there will be no one to turn the authority over to.  Even if Israel wants to leave most of the West Bank, it seems that it will be almost impossible to do so.

 

Calls for ceasefire equated to treason

 

Two weeks ago I wrote a piece for Ynet in Hebrew calling for a bilateral ceasefire.  Ynet asked me for the text in English and it was immediately published on their English page (http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3263177,00.html).  The Hebrew edition of Ynet held the piece until 5:00 pm yesterday after the attack in Kerem Shalom.  Within 12 hours there were more than 120 talkbacks.  At least 117 of them were extreme attacks against me and my opinions.  Israel is traumatized by kidnappings and the responses of ordinary people against me is understandable given the political culture and psyche of this nation. Almost all of the attacks against me called for wiping out whole sections of Gaza, bombing them, making them pay a high price.  Aside from the personal attacks against me and my integrity (I was likened to Jews who called for collaboration with the Nazis), the only plans that these concerned citizens had to offer contained calls for Palestinian blood in the name of Jewish and Israeli pride and honor.

 

I am convinced that the only way of preventing a new tragic situation for both people is to find someway of reaching a bilateral ceasefire. My interest in is saving human lives, from both sides. I don’t know if a bilateral ceasefire could work or could last.  I have serious doubts of whether the Palestinian leadership – of Hamas and Fateh together, could impose their will on other factions.  I have serious doubts if Israel would agree to cease its targeted killings policies or the massive arrests of Palestinian suspects in the West Bank for even a limited time period. What I do know is that everyday that Israelis and Palestinians are not firing at each other, is another day when people are not being killed. Simplistic perhaps – but the equation itself is rather simplistic.  If there is a workable ceasefire for one day then perhaps it could be extended for another.  After one week, another week, etc.

 

 The attacks against me do have their toll. I am depressed by them, mostly by the sense of standing alone (or in a very small crowd of like-minded Israelis) who believe that violence will not lead us to safety.

 

No negotiations with terrorists

 

With the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier is likely to come the demands to release Palestinian prisoners in Israel.  Israel says that it will never negotiate with the Hamas and will never release prisoners to free a kidnapped soldier, but it has continually done that in the past.  Israel is trying to use intelligence sources to find the hiding place of the kidnapped soldier and then to free him with a special ops missions. The last time a similar case happened was with Nahshon Wachsman when Israel was in full control of the West Bank and that rescue attempts led to the death of Wachsman and to one of his rescuers.  Israel must pursue all means to release the soldier, including the possibility of special operations.  But if negotiations will take place with a third party involved, most likely Egypt, it would be wise to expand the scope of the negotiations to include the bilateral ceasefire which could then also be linked to a prisoner release.  It would be much better to release prisoners as a result of a ceasefire agreement than as a result of a kidnapping.

 

 

The Israeli-Palestinian Peace NGOs Forum

 

I am more pessimistic than I have ever been – being pessimistic is a new place more me and forces me to sense a feeling of being the “prophet of doom”.  I don’t currently see hope beyond the doom which is about to fall on us. We, Israelis and Palestinians alike are trapped by our own doings. The more complex the situation becomes the more trapped we are.

 

This past weekend the inaugural meeting of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace NGOs forum was held in Jordan.  More than 100 Israeli and Palestinian peace organizations have come together to form this alliance of committed peace activists to work together, to coordinate, and to be empowered.  This is a very positive development which does offer some hope.  Almost all of these NGOs are facing crises at home.  It is becoming increasingly difficult for us all to work.  Funds are becoming more and more scarce.  Logistics of holding meetings between Israelis and Palestinians are a nightmare.  Even traveling to the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea for these meetings takes hours and costs amazingly high tariffs and fees to move us across what should be a 15 minute trip. Instead it involves a border that takes hours to cross. I would much prefer to hold the meetings locally, but Israelis cannot enter the Palestinian areas and Palestinians require permits to enter Israel.  Ironically and cynically, very often Palestinian peace activists are denied permits from the Israeli authorities. With all of the difficulties of reaching our destination, the meeting in Jordan was quite successful and despite the general sense of despair in the air, all of the participants, representing some 40 Israeli and Palestinian peace NGOs, remain 100% committed to working together for real peace. 

 

One of the members suggested that we try to organize a demonstration in Sderot and Beit Hanoun calling for an immediate ceasefire.  We are now working to see if it is practical and if we have people on both sides willing to participate.  I just spoke with a friend in Beit Lahia who called to voice his sorrow for the attack yesterday and to express his hopes that Gilead Shalit is released.  I asked him about participating and helping to organize the demonstration.  He said that he would begin immediately working on it.  That gives some sense of hope.

 

 

 

 

Gershon Baskin is the Co-CEO of IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.  www.ipcri.org