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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

In one highly-packed week from January 12-19, a Brit Tzedek/Meretz-USA delegation will meet with members of Knesset, top Palestinian leaders, and a variety of peace activists among other activities. Steve Masters, president of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom and staffer Anna Freedman will write regular journal entries. We will also provide links to the trip blog of Rabbi Brant Rosen, a member of Brit Tzedek's Rabbinic Cabinet from Evanston, IL.


Time is Fading for the 2 state solution
By Steve Masters
January 15, 2008

Today we met with 3 deep thinkers – Gadi Baltiansky who directs the Israeli arm of the Geneva Initiative, Akiva Eldar, an award winning journalist who writes for Ha’aretz and Gershon Baskin, the Israeli co-director of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI).

No surprise that the topic for each was the future of the 2 state solution and the prospects for successful peace negotiations.

Gadi Baltiansky summarized for us the common denominators of the presentations at the Herzliya conference on “An Agreement within a Year”:

  • President Shimon Peres, former Sharon top aide Dov Weisglass, former Army chief of staff Amnon Lipton Shahak, top Clinton negotiator Rob Malley, Ambassador Dan Kurtzer and Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, by their presence demonstrated a broad political consensus willing to be associated with the Geneva Initiative

  • Most speakers agreed that it is well known what a final agreement will look like – basically the terms of the Geneva Initiative. No one came up with any competing models for a solution.

  • In terms of the structure of the negotiations, most agreed that there should be an Israeli equivalent to the Negotiations Support Unit for the PLO, something Gadi called a peace administration. There was also consensus that there must be a secret back channel opened up for negotiators.

  • Finally, Gadi emphasized that without clear directives from politicians, it will be very hard to negotiate a proper agreement. The army is a conservative institution that has in the past and will continue to oppose many peace initiatives until there is a clear directive from the Prime Minister, after which they faithfully carry out the peace mandate.

Gadi concluded with a strong call for American Jews to conduct advocacy with Israeli political leaders, and not just with Congress and the US Administration. He gave a few reasons why we should engage in this way:

  • The voice of American Jews can bolster the perception amongst Israelis that it is possible to reach an agreement.

  • Hearing from American Jews committed to Israel helps Israelis and Palestinians take the current negotiations more seriously.

  • Finally, Gadi said that there are a steady stream of delegations from AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents which meet with the Prime Minister and other Members of Knesset and tell them that American Jews will never agree to sharing Jerusalem or creating a Palestinian State.

Anna Freedman will be blogging about our lunch with Akiva Eldar and the tour of a checkpoint with Machshom watch.

At dinner we heard from Gershon Baskin, who told us that we are in the final days when the 2 State Solution remains a possibility, with the settlers are leading Israel to commit national suicide, in a modern day version of Massada.

He found the discussions at the Herzliya conference the most optimistic he’s heard in 7 years. With the exception of the two pollsters, he reported that the remaining speakers, who all had thousands of hours of experience with Israeli/Palestinian negotiations, were uniformly optimistic.

I found his statements about Hamas the most challenging. He took a very hard line, saying that the goal for Gaza must be regime change.

He told us about receiving calls from 4 Hamas leaders in Gaza asking him to communicate with Israeli leaders their desire for a ceasefire. Each time Gershon asked if Hamas would impose a ceasefire on Islamic Jihad and other forces. Hamas has been meeting with the other factions but has not made progress in securing their agreement to abide by a Hamas brokered ceasefire. Until they do, Gershon said he won’t be acting as a go between for Hamas.

When challenged about why he rejects the International Crisis Group’s recommendation for a renewal of a national unity government between Fatah and Hamas, he stated that the only difference he can see between a Hamas “moderate” and a Hamas “hardliner” is whether or not they are willing to talk with Gershon Baskin. He told us that he time he has tried to arrange dialogues between Hamas representatives and Israelis who support a 2 state solution, the efforts have been stopped by either Hamas leaders in Gaza or in Syria.

He also said that the Hamas conditions for a ceasefire where far more extreme than Fatah’s demands on Israel for an end of the conflict. And even if Israel were to meet all of Hamas’ demands, there is no commitment on the part of Hamas to extend this ceasefire beyond twenty or thirty years.

Baskin concluded that Hamas will not voluntarily give up power and that he does not see a way for regime change to occur without violence or massive civil disobedience.

Not what I would call an optimistic scenario for the future, though it’s hard to discount Baskin’s analysis when it is based upon hundreds of contacts with Hamas leaders over the past several years.

Tomorrow it’s on to the Knesset where we’ll meet with Prime Minister Olmert, Bibi Netanyu, and many Members of Knesset from Meretz and Labor.

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