Alan Johnson: There have been three military operations in Gaza since 2008. Not just the Israelis and Gazans, but the international community are now increasingly vocal in saying that we must avoid a fourth. Udi Dekel and Shlomo Brom of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) have proposed a new policy – ‘Reconstruction for Demilitarisation’. What is your general assessment of that approach?
Gershon Baskin: You cannot resolve the problem by just throwing money at it. The reconstruction of Gaza is essential, but when we began the official negotiations to free Gilad Shalit, one of the messages I was asked to send to Hamas by the Israeli government was that when Gilad was free, Israel would allow a large amount of development to take place. I discovered Hamas wasn’t the least bit interested in this. This was not what motivated them. It is very much an Israeli/Jewish mindset which says ‘let’s throw money at the problem and resolve it.’
So I think that the answer is only one third about economic development. The other two-thirds are a security plan and, most importantly, a political plan. In my view, it would be against the interests of Israel, and the interests of the region, to end this war with Hamas being able to claim victory. I know that certain people in the Israeli military think that we should be talking to Hamas and bring them to the table; I think that would be a huge mistake.
We have an opportunity to create a political process with allies in the region who view the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas like we do, as an enemy. We need to identify this opportunity and capitalise on it – that’s why the plan needs to have economic, security and political components.
It is clear to me – from the behaviour of Egypt during this war, from what is happening in the West Bank, with the Palestinian Authority (PA) taking extreme measures to crush dissent, and from Jordanian concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood – that we should create a new quartet. A new quartet not of the US, UN, EU and Russia; but of Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the PA led by the PLO of Mahmoud Abbas. This quartet should develop a plan based on the following elements.
First, Israel should accept the Arab League Peace Initiative. This is a major step which no government of Israel has taken so far. In recent clarifications by [Saudi] Prince Turki [bin Faisal] in a Haaretz article, he says that the Initiative is not a dictate and that should the Israelis and the Palestinians agree between themselves to things that are not in the Initiative – or that go beyond the Initiative – then this would be accepted by the Arab world.
Second, in exchange for accepting the Arab Peace Initiative and holding negotiations for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, led by the PLO, Israel could then – together with Egypt, Jordan and the PLO – ask the Arab League to take responsibility for Gaza for an interim period of time, in order to stabilise Gaza and disarm Hamas of its weapons. Obviously, Hamas would not agree to this, but think of the position Hamas would be in if it opposed disarmament against the wishes of the Arab League. That would be a completely different to Hamas objecting to an Israeli wish.
This is a package deal. It is obviously complex and you need to negotiate for border control and security arrangements, but the general idea is an acceptance by Israel of the Arab Peace Initiative in exchange for stabilisation of the Gaza Strip – as part of the future Palestinian state under PLO leadership – supported by the Arab League. If we have to, we can also get a UN Security Council resolution to give us the backing of international law.
AJ: Is it realistic to think that Hamas opposition could be overcome by the combined political weight of this new quartet?
GB: I think this is very realistic. If the Palestinian people, in Gaza in particular, knew that this plan would finally lead to the end of the occupation and Palestinian independence, they would get rid of Hamas from within.
I’m not being naïve here. Not at all. Two months ago, before the beginning of this war, Hamas was at its weakest point. The experts say that Hamas didn’t have more than 15 per cent support in Gaza. Hamas went into a national reconciliation government capitulating on all their demands: going into government without any representation, agreeing that this government could continue security cooperation with Israel – essentially against Hamas – because they were so weak.
This war has strengthened them. It has strengthened solidarity with them among the Palestinian public and in the Arab streets of the Middle East. That is a negative outcome of the war, and we need to work against that by a political initiative that will change the face of the region.
Israel is based on the Zionist idea of taking our fate into our own hands and not waiting for others to determine who and what we are. That’s what Israel is about. We are a ‘start up nation’ which invents new patents in the world of high-tech. Our military knows how to take the initiative. I just can’t fathom why the government of Israel is always waiting for someone else to take the political initiative.