Student groups J Street U and Wes for Peace hosted social and political activist Dr. Gershon Baskin on Tuesday, Nov. 11 to speak about his analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The lecture, titled “Is Peace Possible?”, focused specifically on the recent violence in the region this past summer and Baskin’s vision for peace going forward.
Baskin is the founder of the Israel-Palestine: Creative Regional Initiative, a think tank managed both by Israelis and Palestinians, and a columnist for The Jerusalem Post. Baskin was also the back-channel negotiator who secured the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli sports columnist held in captivity by Hamas for five years.
Baskin explained that in 1974, after spending a year in Israel on a Zionist youth program called Young Judea, he decided to move to Israel permanently. He realized that during his year in Israel he didn’t know anything about Palestinians, prompting his research on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The majority of the Palestinian people at that time were opposed to a two-state solution. In addition, only 2 to 3 percent of the Israeli population supported the idea of a Palestinian state next to Israel, and those few were considered traitors.
Shortly after moving to Israel, Baskin began working with Palestinians to reach a two-state solution. He says he approached his work with an open mind and a willingness to listen to the Palestinian people because he believed both sides were at fault in the conflict.
“I said, ‘It’s not a conflict of us or you. It’s a conflict of us and you, and the question is how,’” Baskin said, speaking of one of his statements to the Palestinians with whom he worked. “And I proposed that the conflict is about seven core issues: Palestinian statehood and the nature of its sovereignty; the borders between the two states; the future of Jerusalem; the issue of Palestinian refugees and their rights; the physical link between the two Palestinian territories in West Bank and Gaza with Israel in between; the issue of natural resources, mainly water; and the nature of economic relations between the two governments.”
He called this conflict between two national movements over a piece of territory a “territorial expression of identity,” meaning that each side is willing to fight to have a piece of land it calls its own.
However, Baskin said he believes that there is no military solution because Israel could defeat Hamas with its firepower. In his opinion, the only solution that could bring regional alliance for security and stability is Israel accepting the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 and creating the State of Palestine. For this to happen, he believes an Israeli leader needs to support the State.
“I as an Israeli cannot comprehend why I [would] want my neighbors to suffer,” Baskin said. “I as an Israeli want my neighbors to be happy, peaceful, and prosperous. And I actually have an enormous amount of power to make it happen, but not full power.”
Jared Fineberg ’17, a member of J Street U and one of the key organizers of the event, expressed his admiration for Baskin’s unwavering support of the two-state solution.
“Despite decades of bloodshed and failed peace initiatives, Dr. Baskin manages to see how both parties can learn from their mistakes,” Fineberg said. “As long as activists like Dr. Baskin keep sharing their vision for a viable two-state solution, there is hope of ending the Israeli occupation and for a lasting peace for both Palestinians and Israelis.”
Cyrus Nury ’16, a leader of Wes for Peace,expressed how Baskin’s talk gave him a new outlook on the conflict.
“I’ve always maintained a neutral stance on the Israel/Palestine issue,” Nury said. “I’ve never really been pro-Israel, but I also haven’t been pro-Palestine, but I think [Baskin] did a really good job giving a non-biased perspective of the history of the conflict as well as his suggestions [about] the issue.”
Caroline Monahan ’16, the other leader of Wes for Peace, explained the significance of having Baskin speak on the issue on behalf of the student group.
“We were eager to help bring Dr. Baskin to speak to the Wesleyan community,” Monahan said. “We think it is important to listen to all theories of peacemaking in order to come to our own conclusions about how we can bring about a world free of war.”
Wes for Peace is a new student club run by Monahan and Nury that encourages thoughtful discourse about potential alternatives to military intervention, particularly when the U.S. is involved. The other student group involved in the lecture, J Street U, is the student organizing arm of J Street, a national movement that advocates for a two-state solution through vigorous American leadership and that attempts to change the conversation about Israel within the American Jewish community.
Fineberg gave his opinion on what he feels is the only way Israelis who support a two-state solution can bring a voice to their thoughts.
“If the unrepresented majority of Israelis who support a two-state solution can mobilize towards electing a government committed to forging a lasting and dignified peace with Palestine, peace is indeed possible,” Fineberg said. “But doing so will be a difficult political fight against an entrenched right-wing regime committed to maintaining power, and we need to do everything we can to compel liberal Israeli leaders to take up the mantle of the peace process.”