Gershon baskin in his offcie at IPCRI in Tantur, jerusalem, near Bethlehem
In a session at the J-street conference on February 28, 2011 in Washington, Garson Baskin CEO of the Israel Palestine Research Centre[IPCRI] said that the security co-operation that has been occurring between Israel and the Palestinian security forces “will not continue if there’s no paradigm for a Palestinian state” by by September 2010 when PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad will declare statehood on the 1967 borders.
Baskin who spoke at a session entitled “‘How to Save the Two State Solution” did not explicitly say what Palestinian Security forces would do. Presumably, however, he was suggesting they will not act to thwart terror attacks against Israel from the West Bank, disband terror groups, or will in fact themselves direct fire against Israel.
Baskin also said that IPCRI “prepared a document” for Fatah advising it to put forth the resolution to halt building of settlements over the green line to the UN Security Council, which the Obama administration vetoed, albeit reluctantly.
Baskin said the document suggested that the Palestinians “incorporate the [exact] wording used by American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her speech at the Saban Center”, to make it difficult for the United States to veto the resolution.
At the J Street conference, Baskin also advocated the immediate building of a physical link -be it a bridge, tunnel, sunken road or a combination thereof between the West Bank and Gaza.
Baskin called on the Israeli government to end its “immoral” siege of Gaza which he said is “strategically wrong” for Israel, as it has created an
“underground tunnel economy” which is in the control of Hamas, and strengthened rather than weakened Hamas’s control over Gaza.
He said it has time for Israel to end the siege of Gaza which has made all the “farmers and manufacterer’s of Gaza become unemployed” and then put the people back to work by “re-integrating the economy of Gaza with the West Bank.”
“We all know that Gaza will eventually be part of Palestine,”said Baskin.
“Why wait to build it [a physical link between the West Bank and Gaza]. Let’s start building it. Let’s start to give Palestinian people the opportunity to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and then see if they [the Gazans] still support Hamas.”
Baskin did not address the issue of whether building such a physical link now with Hamas in power in Gaza would enable Hamas to send/smuggle weapons from Gaza to the West Bank, which could be used to strike at the heart of Israel, or whether this action would reward Hamas and enable it to take over power in the West Bank also.
Baskin did not clarify who ought to build this physical link but suggested that it would be worthwhile for the “international community” to come up for the money with this project.
“The design and plans for this route [between Gaza and the West Bank] have been done,” he claimed.
In an interview after the session, Baskin told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that he had personally seen one engineering plan done to place a railway link at a location near Hebron to Gaza “where the route is [only] 26 miles” [between the two]
At the session Baskin said that the vote for Hamas in 2006 was a “protest vote” against corrupt Fatah and that he believes “the majority if Palestinians in Gaza do not support Hamas.”
As for how to “bring Hamas into future peace negotiations, Baskin said that that “We can’t get rid of Hamas. We have to help the Palestinians transform Hamas into a legitimate partner.” He did not specify how Hamas could ever be turned into a partner that was interested in ending the conflict.
He said Hamas has said that they will accept a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders. “That’s not saying that they’ll end the conflict [once the Palestinians get a state along the 1967 borders] but they’ve gone a long way.”
Baskin said that he has been “talking to Hamas for the last 4 years” trying to work on a deal that would see Gilad Shalit freed.”
“One of the leaders of Hamas is befriending me on facebook,” he said.
“One of the few Palestinians that wants to speak Hebrew with me is a leader of Hamas,” he said of his new facebook friend.
At the session, Baskin said “Let’s empower Abbas. Let’s not lose the opportunity.”
Baskin added, “The end of the days when a two state solution is viable is near. Once we lose Abbas and Fayyad in September 2010 when they hold elections, Palestinians will be competing not to be more moderate but more extreme.”
Baskin also said after the session that he believes that the PA ought to be allowed and encouraged to build cities in the West Bank “two times the size of Modi’in” to enable them to invite the Palestinians in UNWRA Refugee Camps in Lebanon to return to a Palestinian state.
When asked why focus on Lebanese Palestinian refugees, Baskin responded “Lebanon is a place they [the Palestinian refugees] are suffering the most-they have no jobs…” However he noted that many policy makers think that if these Palestinian refugees in Lebanon were offered the ability to go to Canada or elsewhere in the West they would do so as opposed to going to the West Bank.
He said “Syrian Palestinian refugees will probably stay in Syria.”
Baskin also predicted that Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator who just recently resigned his position “is planning to run in the next Palestinian national elections for President.”
“Erekat wants to run as a person who was accountable in PA politics, because he resigned and acknowledged responsibility for the Palestinian papers leaked by Al-Jazeera came from his office.”
Baskin doubted Erekat, who he says “has never been that popular” would win, but noted that “that doesn’t mean he won’t run.”