Gershon Baskin is the founder of IPCRI – Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, and served as its co-director until January 2012. He is a long-time veteran of both Israeli peace NGOs and second track diplomacy between Israel and the Palestinians, and has many key contacts on both sides. This gives him a particularly well-informed grasp of current events.
In July 2006, after Gilad Schalit’s abduction in Gaza he began unofficially, without governmental authorization or support, to open a back channel with Hamas. Baskin was involved in the ultimately successful efforts leading up to Shalit’s release for more than five years
Baskin holds a Ph.D. in International relations from the University of Greenwich.
All of this makes his insight into how to resolve issues particularly valuable. As this week of escalated violence in Israel and the West Bank came to a close, Baskin posted some of his thoughts to his Facebook page. The Foundation for Middle East Peace reprints them here with his permission.
It is thoroughly unacceptable that the Jewish National Fund (JNF) is funding projects outside the Green Line. As with any other organization that uses charitable donations, it should not be allowed to maintain its tax exempt status and fund settlement projects.
But that’s a bigger fight. No doubt, many donors to the JNF are very comfortable with, or even enthusiastic supporters of funding settlements. But many others are simply responding to very familiar, innocuous-looking and, one would even say, traditional JNF call to “plant tress in Israel.” If nothing else, the JNF is morally obliged to let people know that their donations might not be funding projects in Israel, but could also be funding projects in the settlements.
If the JNF won’t do the right thing and make this clear (and they won’t–in fact, they go to considerable effort to keep it quiet, as the video points out), then it is up to Jews of conscience to do it for them. Please share this video, let people know it’s worth a minute or two to watch it. And after you do, please take action here.
In recent weeks, an upsurge in violence in Jerusalem has brought the embattled city back into the headlines. According to Danny Seidemann, founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem and one of the leading experts on the city, this violence, boiling at a level unseen in Jerusalem since 1967, actually began over a year ago, and it is not just another spoke in the “cycle of violence.”
“Usually there’s a tendency to overstate the instability of Jerusalem,” Seidemann said at a meeting of journalists and analysts in Washington this week. “But Jerusalem is normally a far more stable city than its reputation. What we are seeing now are significant developments that go well beyond tomorrow’s headlines.”
Seidemann described a dangerous confluence of factors, with the political stalemate creating an atmosphere of despair in which the conflict, which has always been political, will finally become the religious conflict that many have believed, until now incorrectly, that it is. The current conflict centered on the Temple Mount is only the tip of the iceberg. According to Seidemann, “The entire fabric of this conflict has changed.” Read more at FMEP’s site
In what has almost become an annual ritual, an upsurge in violence has again put Jerusalem on edge. Originally centered on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount area in Jerusalem’s Old City, the clashes have now spread beyond, into the West Bank. Read more at Facts On the Ground
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his appearance at the United Nations General Assembly today, one day after a speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Nothing of substance is going to change as a result of these speeches. But Netanyahu’s in particular offered a good picture of the current state of affairs and why they are what they are.
Netanyahu’s speech was clearly aimed not at the international audience he was addressing, but at constituent
audiences in Israel and the United States. Indeed, his very cadence was rehearsed to allow for bursts of applause of the kind he’s grown accustomed to in Congress. After a few of those silent pauses, a small portion of the audience recognized the need to fill them with polite applause, but for the most part, Netanyahu’s speech was received with stony silence.
If there was anything remarkable about the speech, it was Netanyahu’s hostile, condescending tone. Already, his “44-second pause” has become infamous. This pause, after Netanyahu accused the United Nations of tolerating genocidal threats from Iran, was accompanied by Netanyahu’s scowl at the entire assembly.
The moment was emblematic of Netanyahu’s scolding approach. The message he intended to convey to those gathered in the room and watching was highlighted when he discussed the “unshakeable” bond between Israel and the United States. Netanyahu was telling the world that as long as he has America, he really doesn’t care what the rest of the world thinks.
In the wake of the very public arguments between the Netanyahu government and the Obama Administration over the agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, many observers have been speculating about the future of the US-Israel relationship and if it is as “unshakeable” as Netanyahu contends it is. The contours of where that relationship might go from here were also apparent in another piece of Netanyahu’s UN Speech.
“President Obama and I have both said that our differences over the nuclear deal are a disagreement within the family,” Netanyahu declared. “But we have no disagreement about the need to work together to secure our common future.”
There should be no doubt among anyone trying to promote an end to the Israel-Palestine conflict that the experience of the Obama Administration proves that, however rocky the politics may be, the United States will not falter in ensuring that Israel remains the dominant military power in the region. Despite repeated episodes of friction and tension between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, American largesse in military support of Israel has only increased.
But even if we adopt Netanyahu’s family analogy, it’s worth keeping in mind that, while family members will generally keep each other safe, they don’t necessarily always support every endeavor of the other family members.
That notion was highlighted by a revelation in Politico the very morning of Bibi’s speech at the UN. The report says that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has twice requested that the President publicly state that the United States would veto any UN Security Council Resolution calling for a Palestinian state and that both times, the President has declined to agree to such an action.
The possibility of such a UN resolution is real, and if the Obama Administration is open to allowing is to pass, that would mark a significant shift in U.S. posture at the UN. Most pointedly, it brings to mind the 2011 incident where the United States vetoed a resolution on settlements that was virtually identical to America’s stated policy.
Some might see this as an effect of the mutual dislike between Obama and Netanyahu, but in reality it is more than that. No doubt, when Obama’s term in office ends, his successor is likely to be at least somewhat more to Israel’s liking. But there are real differences in policy in play here, and those differences are not limited to Iran.
In explaining why Obama was not more responsive to Reid’s requests, National Security Council spokesperson, Ned Price reminded us that the United States supports a two-state solution. He pointed out that Palestinian efforts in the international arena were not welcomed by the administration, but the implication was clear: the Obama Administration was not going to promise to veto a resolution that might serve to save the dimming possibility of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
That is a policy that could well continue into the next administration, and it puts political daylight between the US and Israel.
That daylight might matter in the near future. Netanyahu repeated his stock line about being willing to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “with no precondition,” the day after Abbas made his empty statement about the Palestinians no longer abiding by “previous signed agreements.” While Abbas did not actually annul a single agreement with Israel, Netanyahu will certainly want to use this as yet another obstacle in the way of any action toward ending Israel’s occupation. Obama seems intent, however, on preserving some hope for a two-state solution.
Netanyahu’s belligerence to everyone but America in his speech was palpable. He made no effort to hide his disdain. While there will be some humor to be gleaned from his glaring 44-second pause and his trumpeting of cherry tomatoes as an Israeli accomplishment, the speech will only increase Israel’s isolation on the world stage. It will also make it even more embarrassing for the United States to continue to shield Israel from the consequences not only of its policies but also of Netanyahu’s hubris.
Thumbing his nose at the entire international community will play well in Israel and among Israel’s more militant supported in the United States. But it will sharpen the divide between those who want to secure Israel by utterly defeating the Palestinians and those who want to see Israel’s occupation end with peace and security for all.
The latter group includes the Obama Administration and most American Jews. Netanyahu has made it clear that he is an ideological opponent of that group. It’s time to accept him at his word on that and stop pretending he can be won over.