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Gershon Baskin, Co-CEO of Iarael-Palestine Centre for Research and Information
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Poster of Gaza with the Palestinian Authority Logo on th ebottom in my room a the conference. The poster was out of date since since June 2007, the Palestinian Authority has been ousted from Gaza by Hamas.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

View on the way to Beit Jalla.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

In Bethelhem, not far from the conference.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.


By Rhonda Spivak, November 1, 2009

In Beit Jallah, just  outside  of Bethlehem,  a group of  Israelis and Palestinians met at a conference  this summer in August sponsored by the Israel-Palestinian  Centre for Research and Information [IPCRI], an organization promoting tolerance, co-existence and and compromise.  But  even  there, the gaps between the parties were so glaring, that it is virtually impossible to see how a peace plan could ever be  enacted on the  ground between  the  Palestinian Authority  which governs the West Bank and  the government  of Israel.

 At the conference, Osama Alhrithi, a fourth year law student at  Al-Quds Univrsity in Jerusalem said he believes  that even if  Israel went back to the 1967  green line and all Jewish settlements over the green line were  removed, “ any Palestinian refugee who wants to return to his home that he left in 1948 in Israel should be able to come back…There are a lot of Palestinian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon and if they want to come back, that is their holy right.”

Alhrithi’s view about Israel being obliged to take in waves of Palestinian refugees, rather than those refugees returning to a  future Palestinian state only, was  typical. It was one echoed by virtually all of the Palestinian delegates to the conference,  even though these delegates were  affiliated with Fatah, not Hamas, which now rules the Gaza Strip.  However, for all of the Israeli Jews present at the conference,  it  was inconceivable to let  Palestinian refugees return en masse and overtake their country.

At  the end of the conference Gershon Baskin, the  dovish Israeli co-CEO of  IPCRI spoke in favour  of establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza strip with  East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.  However,  he said what all  of  the  moderate Israelis say, which is  that  Palestinian refugees  will be able to go to  the Palestinian state only,  and not back to  pre-67 Israel, or  they will be given monetary compensation instead.

When Baskin said this, he was challenged by Ra’id Abdalla Otair,  director of the Palestinian Authority’s  Ministry of Health in Hebron. “All refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and elsewhere should be asked to come back to their land in Israel-in Haifa, and Jaffa and Akko,” Ra’id  shouted.

Baskin shouted back, “No Ra’id-you can’t live under that illusion any more--Israel can’t be overrun with Palestinian refugees, because then there will be two Palestinian states, and no Jewish state…I don’t want to occupy you Ra’id, but Israel won’t allow itself to become a Palestinian state.” After Baskin’s response,  Ra’id, who is also the Palestinian  representative for  the NGO Future Vision, stormed out of the room.

Ra’id, and the other Palestinians who spoke  out at the conference, also ruled out the possibility of “land swaps” in any peace agreement. They maintained that Israel would have to withdraw exactly to the 1967 lines, eliminating the possibility that it could retain large Jewish settlement blocs, comprising   about 4% of the West Bank, in exchange for giving the  Palestinians  the same amount of land elsewhere, such as in the Negev. For the Israelis present, including Baskin, land swaps would have to be part of the deal.

As  Firas Arafat, a pharmacist from Hebron said, “I know Jimmy Carter just came to the Gush Etzion Jewish settlement area [over the 1967 green line]and  told the Jews there that they would  remain  part of  Israel in  the future, but I don’t agree. Israel must get out of every Jewish settlement in the occupied territories.”

Other Palestinians, such as Mazin Qumsiyeh, a scientist at Bethlehem University, spoke of a  “a one state solution” for all people between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River- a state that would have a Palestinian majority. When confronted with the fact that that there was no support for this proposal among Israeli Jews, Qumsiyeh said, “So what?...“Twenty years ago Israelis didn’t recognize such things as a Palestinian state……but that changed…As a scientist [I think] that a one state solution has a 1000 times more probability of happening… than a two state solution.”

At the end the conference, as Baskin advocated an “internationally imposed solution”, since he has lost hope of a negotiated peace, some delegates, like myself, went away with the feeling that peace has never seemed further.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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