Israel and Palestine: Peace is possible

/ Online streaming - via Zoom

"There are no military means to defeat an ideology like that of the Hamas group, which holds a distorted view of Islam, glorifies the killing of young Palestinians, and seeks the destruction of Israel. The only method to counter an ideology is with a superior one. The only superior ideology I envision for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the two-state solution, where Israel and Palestine coexist peacefully. Recognizing that both Palestinians and Israelis deserve equal rights is the cornerstone for a new beginning," said Gershon Baskin, the founder and director of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI).

A prominent Israeli mediator known for negotiating the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from five years of Hamas captivity, Mr. Baskin asserted that Israel's security is unattainable without the Palestinians' freedom, independence, and dignity. Conversely, Palestinians cannot achieve these essentials without Israel's security.

Mr. Baskin participated in this webinar upon the invitation of the Fundação Fernando Henrique Cardoso and the Brazil Israel Institute (IBI) on December 19th. The event was opened by Ruth Goldberg, managing director of the IBI, and moderated by Sergio Fausto, general director of the Fundação FHC. Engaging with the speaker, Karina Stange Calandrin, PhD in International Relations and professor at the University of Sorocaba, alongside Roberto Simon, MSc in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School, journalist, and political risk analyst in New York, posed insightful questions.

Hamas and Netanyahu need to leave office for agreement to move forward

Although it appears paradoxical, the 2023 October 8 attacks in Israel could potentially rejuvenate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. This perspective, offered by Mr. Baskin, is based on the vision of a two-state solution where both states coexist in harmony. However, there are some preconditions for that to happen: 

The revival of peace talks is contingent upon the neutralization of Hamas as the prevailing force in the Gaza Strip, supplanted by a Palestinian leadership dedicated to embarking on an authentic and revitalized peace initiative.

Furthermore, it is imperative for the Israeli Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, to leave office. His tenure is largely implicated in the stagnation of the peace process in recent years — with the last substantive effort traced back to 2009 — and in Israel's security vulnerabilities, which have been starkly revealed through Hamas's assaults.

The reconstruction of the peace process necessitates a regional approach, incorporating the participation of other Middle Eastern nations rather than relying primarily on the United States as the mediator — a strategy that has not yielded success in the past. Nonetheless, the support and vigilant oversight of the US, the European Union, and the UN, along with other countries and institutions, remain essential to the process.

To rehabilitate the Gaza Strip, a substantial international economic initiative will be essential, demanding billions of dollars in investment towards infrastructure, housing, and population support within the Palestinian territory. In this reconstruction effort, the US, China, the EU, and the wealthiest nations in the Middle East will play significant roles.

"October 7 marked the most significant trauma for the Jewish people since the Holocaust. And the current events in Gaza represent the most profound trauma for the Palestinian people since 1948," stated Mr. Baskin.

"October 7 marked the most significant trauma for the Jewish people since the Holocaust. And the current events in Gaza represent the most profound trauma for the Palestinian people since 1948. We are two peoples, deeply traumatized, living side by side, confronting realities that will indubitably shape our lives and those of future generations," he stated.

"The task before us, particularly for the younger generations of Israelis and Palestinians, is to cease dwelling on the past and instead gaze towards the future, as was done in Northern Ireland towards the end of the 20th Century. We have to reach a pivotal juncture that I refer to as the 'Belfast Moment.' Indeed, the peace process in Northern Ireland was lengthy, intricate, and fraught with challenges. Yet, it commenced when the people of Northern Ireland, after decades of sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants, chose to stop revisiting past grievances and instead pursued a peaceful resolution for the future. A similar paradigm shift is required in Israel and Palestine," he said.

Mr. Baskin, who served as an advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin during the negotiations with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that culminated in the Oslo Accords in 1993, has called for the revival of peace talks, albeit on fresh terms. It's critical to recall that the Oslo Peace Accords encountered a significant obstacle with the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin by a Jewish extremist in 1996. Arafat, the president of the Palestinian Authority, passed away in 2004.

"Oslo was designed as a transitional phase of roughly five years, during which Israelis and Palestinians were to engage in confidence-building measures before progressing to a final, permanent agreement. This gradual strategy was designed to facilitate the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. However, both parties repeatedly breached those transitional measures. While we ostensibly collaborated, trust eroded, and suspicion grew that the opposing side lacked genuine commitment to fulfilling the accord," he explained.

Subsequently, there were multiple efforts to advance the peace process, such as in 2000 (at Camp David in the United States, under the mediation of then-US President Bill Clinton) and in 2009 (when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas, held 42 meetings). Nevertheless, the return of Bibi Netanyahu to office in that year (following a previous term from 1996 to 1999) after a closely contested election led to a standstill in negotiations.

"Since 2009, his entire strategy has been focused on exacerbating divisions among Palestinians, neglecting the financial and military support Hamas receives from foreign groups and nations, and striving to further undermine the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which is perceived as ineffective and corrupt by both Palestinians and Israelis. Meanwhile, the Israeli government has permitted the expansion of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, complicating the feasibility of a two-state solution," he remarked.

"The effectiveness of Netanyahu's approach has virtually erased the Palestinian issue from the international discourse and even within Israel, effectively sidelining this critical, I would argue existential, issue for the State of Israel from our lives. In the last five Israeli elections, the Palestinian issue was conspicuously absent from the discussions of politicians and the electorate," he added.

Holding office since 2009, Netanyahu momentarily vacated the prime ministerial role in 2021, only to reclaim it the next year, leading a coalition with the far-right. In 2023, his administration faced extensive protests triggered by a contentious bill proposing to curtail the powers of Israel's Supreme Court.

Some analysts believe the domestic political turmoil diverted the focus of the populace, the political sphere, and even the military and security agencies, contributing to significant security lapses during the Hamas assault on October 7, 2023. "Without a doubt, Netanyahu bears primary responsibility for the calamity we are now enduring from the Israeli perspective. Hence, his immediate departure from the Israeli government is crucial for progress," Mr. Baskin asserted.

Regarding the Palestinian context, the Israeli analyst was unequivocal that no resolution to the ongoing conflict is achievable as long as Hamas governs the Gaza Strip. "Israel will persist in its offensive against Gaza until it dismantles Hamas and ensures the group can no longer govern the territory. Militarily, Israel has the capability to target and eliminate Hamas leaders and obliterate their entire military infrastructure, including weapons, rockets, and tunnels. However, the ideology of Hamas cannot be eradicated through force," he stated.

"The day following the conclusion of this war, which remains far off, necessitates a phase of stabilization in the Gaza Strip under a new administration. However, this entire endeavor must be Palestinian-led. We will need international backing, particularly from neighboring Arab states. Yet, absent a request from the Palestinians themselves, any effort to introduce international forces aimed at stabilizing Gaza would be perceived as another variant of occupation and would likely meet with disapproval," he emphasized.

Israel calls for immediate US and European recognition of Palestinian statehood

Mr. Baskin called for a more definitive stance from the United States and other key nations, such as the United Kingdom and Germany, regarding the establishment of a Palestinian state. "One hundred and thirty-nine countries (including Brazil) have officially recognized the Palestinian state, yet this is insufficient. The principal Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations ought to acknowledge the Palestinian state at the earliest opportunity, allowing it to become a full member of the United Nations," he said.

Mr. Baskin suggested that future dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians be founded on new premises. "The discussions should not revolve around the existence or timing of a Palestinian state's creation; this ought to be a consensus. The focus should be on determining the borders, their management, the status of Jerusalem, and fostering connectivity between the two states, rather than erecting barriers and fences," he said.

He emphasized the significant role of other Arab nations in the region, such as Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, during these negotiations, which should possess a robust regional dimension. The United States and Europe must closely monitor and support the entire process, both diplomatically and financially. China should also contribute to Gaza's reconstruction, given its substantial investment and infrastructure development capabilities.

"The sole avenue through which this devastating conflict could yield any form of triumph for both Israelis and Palestinians lies in the resumption of the peace process. The concept of a two-state solution has once again surfaced on the national, regional, and international forefront. The pressing inquiry now stands: will this iteration be genuine? Will it truly materialize?" he concluded.


Otávio Dias is the content editor at the Fundação FHC. He is a political and international affairs journalist, a former correspondent for Folha de São Paulo in London, and former editor of the website.

Portuguese to English translation by Melissa Harkin, CT and Todd Harkin – Harkin Translations.


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