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 is a member of the steering committee of the Israeli Palestinian Peace NGO Forum, a member of the Board of Directors of ALLMEP – the Alliance for Middle East Peace, a member of the Israeli Board of One Voice Movement, and a member of the editorial committee of the Palestine Israel Journal.
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. We reprint them here with his permission.
From my talking and listening to many Palestinians over the past days I can conclude that no matter what we say about Israel not having plans to take over Al Aqsa, facts have nothing to do with perception and what people believe. Palestinians honestly believe that Israel has grand designs for changing the status quo on the Temple Mount/Al Aqsa. People told me quite clearly that the problem is not solely a religious one – perhaps not even mainly a religious problem – it is political, and it has to do with the continuation and the entrenchment of the occupation. The symbol of that entrenchment is Israeli control and domination over the Tempe Mount/Al Aqsa.
Here is what I think has to be done:
- Netanyahu should notify President Abbas that he is welcome to invite the leaders of the Arab world to come and pray in al Aqsa (at his invitation – not Israel’s). The list of invitees hopefully would include King Abdallah of Jordan, King Mohammed of Morocco, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, and President Sisi of Egypt.
- Israel should be holding regular, ongoing and quiet talks with the Jordanian and Palestinian Waqfs which are in control of what goes on all over the Mount. I assume that these talks are taking place but the return to status quo means that the Israeli police will refrain from entering the Mount on the condition that the officials from the Waqfs guarantee that stones, bottles and other explosive devices will not be brought into the mosques or any area on top that will be used for throwing at Jews praying at the Western Wall.
- Israel should agree that PA security personnel be allowed back onto the Mount and in the Old City and in Palestinian neighborhoods, as they used to be during the first years of the Oslo peace process. They were then in civilian dress, some of them had weapons -agreed to by Israel- others did not. They had the ability to bring suspects to Ramallah for questioning and arrest if necessary. Israel does not patrol the Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem on a regular basis – there are places that they don’t even enter. It is important to provide these people with a sense of security and for them to know that eventually understandings will be reached between Israel and Palestine on the future of Jerusalem.