“We can have a long term ceasefire which is not peace”

Gershon Baskin answers five questions of KAS Israel

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KAS Israel asked Dr. Gershon Baskin, one of the pre-eminent Israeli experts on Hamas, five questions about the back-story to operation “Pillar of Defense” and about the prospects of a permanent truce between Hamas and Israel.

Dr. Gershon Baskin was the founder of the renowned Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), a longstanding partner of KAS Israel. He served as IPCRI’s Israeli co-director from its establishment in the late 1980s until 2011. His publications comprise over 1,000 articles, policy documents, and op-eds published in large variety of websites and newspapers. Since February 2005, he has been a regular columnist for the Jerusalem Post. In 2011, Baskin helped mediate between Israel and Hamas in the deal to release Gilad Shalit. Since then he has maintained a relationship with Hamas leaders.

The director of KAS Israel, Michael Mertes, asked him about his assessment of the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari, the leader of Hamas’s military wing on Wednesday, November 14; the prospects of a truce between Hamas and Israel in light of the recent developments; and the role of domestic considerations on both side of the conflict.

Michael Mertes: Dr. Baskin, after Jabari’s death you were quoted as saying that senior officials in Israel knew about your contacts with Hamas and Egyptian intelligence aimed at formulating a permanent truce. Do you really believe this man could be trusted? If so, why was Jabari assassinated?

Dr. Gershon Baskin: I don’t know if he could be trusted, probably he couldn’t be. Trust is the benchmark for judging words – statements. The proposal I was working on was to test Jabari’s and Hamas’s will to keep to a ceasefire by taking real preventive action on imminent attacks against Israel. The idea was to create a mechanism which could be tested, in which Israeli intelligence knew about a cell organizing in Gaza to attack Israel. The information would be given to the Egyptian intelligence and would then be transferred to Jabari who would have a designated period of time to act. If he were to take preventive steps, then the next round of violence would be avoided – and if he didn’t, then Israel would act in full good conscience to prevent the attack against Israel. Nothing is lost, but perhaps, in the interest of preventing Palestinians from getting killed, Jabari and Hamas would take action and the ceasefire understandings would be kept to.

Mertes: According to a popular ad hoc explanation in Germany, the operation “Pillar of Defense” is a stratagem Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak are using in order to improve their prospects in the Knesset election on January 22, 2013. In light of the risks involved, can that be a serious explanation?

Baskin: If the war took place one month before the elections, then this claim could be valid. But the war started about 70 days before, which in Israel is much too long before the elections for it to be true.

Mertes: Since the end of “Operation Cast Lead” in early 2009, rockets from the Gaza strip were mainly launched by terrorist organisations such as the Islamic Jihad Movement or Salafi splinter groups. Why did Hamas recently engage anew in the launching of rockets? Was it competition with other islamist groups? Was it an attempt to thwart President Mahmoud Abbas’s current attempt to get the United Nation’s recognition of the Palestinian Territories as a “non member state”? Was it an underestimation of Israel’s willingness to retaliate?

Baskin:Hamas was drawn into rocket fire in the last several rounds because the number of causalities on the Palestinian side increased and because the victims included a large number of non-combatants. Hamas was being accused in Gaza of collaborating with the enemy and of dropping the strategy of resistance. Hamas did not shoot with its full intention of waging war, in fact, as they were shooting they were also appealing to Egypt and to Israelis like me to help make a new ceasefire. That is, of course, until their commander Ahmad Jabari was killed.

Mertes: How do you assess the prospects of a permanent truce between Israel and Hamas? How can Hamas guarantee that terrorist organisations like the Islamic Jihad Movement will honour such an agreement?

Baskin:There is zero chance for a permanent truce between Hamas and Israel. We can have a long term ceasefire which is not peace. If and when Hamas wants to impose its authority and discipline on the other factions it has done so. It has the ability to do so again.

Mertes: Let’s assume the worst case, i.e., that operation “Pillar of Defense” develops into a protracted conflict with many civilian casualties. How will Egypt react? Will it eventually be ready to abrogate the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty of 1979?

Baskin: If there are many civilian causalities, Egypt will not be able to serve as mediator. The Egyptian public will put pressure on the government to freeze or end the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.

Mertes: Thank you very much, Dr. Baskin, on behalf of KAS Israel.


Michael Mertes


Israel, November 21, 2012