Gaza is on brink, says man who talks to Ha­mas

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS -

VET­ERAN IS­RAELI peace ac­tivist Ger­shon Baskin has said that Gaza is once again on the brink of ex­plod­ing and the only way to break the cy­cle of vi­o­lence is by open­ing up the econ­omy of the Strip.

In Lon­don this week on a speak­ing tour, Mr Baskin, who has con­nec­tions at the high­est level within both Ha­mas and the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity, said: “The con­di­tions that led to the 2014 war ex­ist again to­day”, not only be­cause Ha­mas is re­stock­ing its weaponry but also be­cause of the “ab­ject

Baskin poverty in Gaza and thou­sands of stu­dents with no hope for a de­cent job… It’s just a mat­ter of time be­fore Gaza ex­plodes again.”

He ar­gued that the war with Ha­mas in 2014 had only made the ter­ror group stronger: “To­day the mil­i­tary wing of Ha­ma­sis­mor­ein­char­geth­anthey­were be­fore the war, they over­rule the political wing.”

In­stead, Is­rael had to “reach over the heads” of Gaza’s lead­er­ship and open up the econ­omy.

“B e c a u s e G a z a and the West Bank are al­most to­tally de­pen­dent on Is­rael, Is­rael should use its lev­er­age to make Pales­tini a n

l i v e s bet­ter — not as a quid pro quo but be­cause it’s in the in­ter­ests of Is­raelis.

“The ma­jor­ity of peo­ple in Gaza do not sup­port Ha­mas, they are sick of that regime. Is­rael can reach out to those peo­ple through the pri­vate sec­tor, through the busi­ness com­mu­nity, through the middle class, through the farm­ers who could ex­port to Is­rael and the West bank.

“I am not say­ing, in­crease the num­ber of work per­mits. But let’s re­con­nect their econ­omy. There’s no money for them to buy any­thing, they need in­come, they need a link to the rest of the world.”

Mr Baskin high­lighted the ex­is­tence of a large-scale sewage plant in Gaza built us­ing in­ter­na­tional do­na­tions that is cur­rently not run­ning be­cause it does not have enough power.

“It needs 3MW of elec­tric­ity, there’s sewage from Gaza that’s spilling into the sea that’s end­ing up on the beaches of Tel Aviv. It’s in­sane that we’re not giv­ing them the 3MW of elec­tric­ity.”

An­other way Is­rael could eas­ily im­prove the lives of Gazans is to upgrade their wa­ter sup­ply.

Mr Baskin said: “Ac­cord­ing to World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion, by 2020 there’s not go­ing to be any drop of hu­manly fit wa­ter left in Gaza. Mean­while, the Ashkelon de­sali­na­tion plant is un­der­pro­duc­ing. Let’s sell them wa­ter, and not make it a ne­go­ti­a­tion or an ex­change, ex­cept for the money that it’s go­ing to cost them to buy the wa­ter.”

Mr Baskin said that he talks to se­nior mem­bers of the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity on daily ba­sis. He re­cently sup­ported an ini­tia­tive cre­ated by Fi­nance Min­is­ter Moshe Kahlon to work with the PA fi­nance min­istry on find­ing ways to im­prove the West Bank econ­omy. “It’s the only high-level en­gage­ment that is hap­pen­ing, aside from the se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion.”

He said he had been try­ing “for years” to get backchan­nel peace talks run­ning be­tween the Is­raeli and Pales­tinian gov­ern­ments.

“We weren’t able to get Ne­tanyahu to meet through any back chan­nel, so I de­liv­ered mes­sages to other se­nior peo­ple in Likud who had to get per­mis­sion to go and talk to Ab­bas or some­one close to him, and they got ve­toed by Ne­tanyahu. I’m still try­ing.”

Mr Baskin re­it­er­ated his be­lief that Is­rael should take up the Arab Peace Ini­tia­tive as a ba­sis for peace ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“Ev­ery­one in the re­gion recog­nises that there is a con­ver­gence in in­ter­ests be­tween Is­rael and a lot of its neigh­bours. It’s be­ing done se­cretly through the in­tel­li­gence ser­vices but we have the op­por­tu­nity to go be­yond this, to work with the in­ner cir­cle of Egypt and Jor­dan, and then on to the Gulf states and the Saudis.

“If we had an Is­raeli part­ner who was will­ing to play along with the Arab Peace Ini­tia­tive, we could throw the ball of Gaza over to the Arab League, and say ‘do what you did dur­ing the civil war in Le­banon’ — send in a multi-na­tional force to dis­arm Ha­mas.”


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