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Interview Archives

Between 2004 and 2010, Just Vision interviewed more than 80 Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders. The interviews in this archive represent a fraction of the civic leaders working in the field at a particular moment in time, and aim to provide audiences access to a range of perspectives and approaches.

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Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin moved to Israel from the United States in the late 1970s. He worked with Jews and Arabs within Israel until the first intifada, when he began promoting dialogue and opportunities for cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. He is the founder of IPCRI, a jointly-run Israeli and Palestinian think tank that works with hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians in government and the private sector. IPCRI was first based in Jerusalem, and in the late 1990s moved its offices to Bethlehem. Because of current travel restrictions, IPCRI has relocated to Tantur, near Jerusalem and next to the main Bethlehem checkpoint, in an effort to find an accessible and comfortable meeting place for Israelis and Palestinians. February 2012. Gershon is coming to the US and Canada on a cross-country speaking tour. If you would like to invite him to speak on your campus or with your community, please contact him here.

  • Where are you from and how did you get involved in the peace work that you are doing now?

    I moved here 25 years ago from New York, and the entire time I've been here I've been involved in peace work, first with Jews and Arabs inside the Green Line, and then in 1988 I founded IPCRI [Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information].

  • How did you get involved in peace work, why was it so important to you?

    When I was 13 I told my parents that I didn't want to have the traditional big Bar Mitzvah1 party, I wanted the family to come to Israel. In 1970 I got involved in the Zionist youth movement. I came back to Israel in 1972 and '73, and in '74-75 when I finished high school, I spent the year in Israel. In 1977 I led a leadership training group to Israel, and in '78 I moved here. When I had spent the year here in Israel, I lived half the year in a kibbutz and half the year in Jerusalem studying. I came back [to the US] to work in the Zionist youth movement camp that summer, and I had a big map of Israel on my wall next to my bed at the summer camp, and I had it marked in the different places that I had visited and things like that. One day I was looking at the map and I noticed that someone had come in and drawn the Green Line on the map, which hadn't been there. And then all of sudden I realized that I had spent almost a whole year in Israel, and not once during that whole year did I ever talk to an Arab. All of a sudden it made me aware that something was very wrong.I got back from the summer camp and started university and I immediately started eating up books that were the alternative to the books I was reading during the days of my involvement in the Zionist movement, like, "What's Wrong with Zionism" and "Arabs and the State of Israel," and the "Arab Israeli conflict." I must have read a hundred books that first year. In any event, I got very involved in Leftist Jewish politics. In my multiple visits to Israel, trying to talk to my relatives in Israel and other friends in Israel, I was always attacked by them telling me, you know, "You're some stupid naive American, you don't understand anything." The sentence that got me more than anything else, and I heard it hundreds of times, was, "You don't know them—" them of course being the Arabs. It didn't occur to me to ask them, at that time, "Well, do you know them? When was the last time you actually spoke to a Palestinian?" I wasn't knowledgeable or aware enough about Israeli society to be able to challenge them with that kind of a sentence. But it became clear to me that if I was going to do anything meaningful in Israel as an Israeli that I would have to gain the kind of credibility that could not be contested.When I finished by BA in September/October of '78 I came to Israel in the framework of Interns for Peace. I was in Kibbutz Barkai2 for a six-month training program and then went to live in Kufur Kara3 for two years. I finished Interns For Peace, and I came to the conclusion that the work of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel was something that had to be done at the governmental level, something that the state of Israel had to take responsibility for. I had done a little study and found out that there wasn't a single civil servant in the entire civil service of Israel who was responsible for improving Jewish-Arab relations in Israel. So I convinced the government of Israel to hire me and I became the first employee in the state of Israel whose responsibility it was to work on the improvement of Jewish-Arab relations. I got a position in the Ministry of Education, which eventually led to the establishment of the Department for Democracy and Coexistence in the Ministry of Education. A year later, through the Ministry and the Prime Minister's office, I was asked to develop an educational institute for Jewish-Arab coexistence, which I directed. It was independent, but it was linked to the Ministry of Education and the Prime Minister's office.The first intifada broke out in the end of November of '87.4 I, like most Israelis, was struck that something very different was happening. It took the Palestinians 25 years to create an uprising, and I had been doing teacher training on Jewish-Arab coexistence and of course had to confront the issue of the intifada. Even though it wasn't about Jewish-Arab relations in Israel, it was what the teachers were concerned about when we were doing these teacher-training programs, and I was struck by the tremendous lack of information and the tremendous ignorance that existed in the Israeli public. I was struck by the fact that something monumental was happening and I really wanted to understand it. I began reading the political leaflets that were being distributed by what was called the United Leadership of the intifada.5 One Saturday morning I decided that I was going to go and meet Palestinians and find out first hand what was going on. I had a little motorcycle, a little Vespa, and I rode to Dheisheh Refugee Camp. These were the days when you could move around, even though they were throwing stones! I took the risk and I drove into the refugee camp. There's an UNRWA school at the entrance of the camp. I took off my helmet and these young people came up to me immediately, and with my minimal Arabic that I spoke then I told them that I was an Israeli and that I wanted to learn about the intifada from their eyes, from their perspective. We stood there talking for about 20 minutes and then one of the people invited us to go to his home and talk. About 30 other people joined along, I spent about 6 hours in Dheisheh. This was in the beginning of March 1988. I was buzzing with energy and excitement because I heard things there that I had never heard from Palestinians before.

    • 1Hebrew term applied to a boy on completing his thirteenth year, who has then reached the age of religious duty and responsibility. This rite of passage is marked on the first Sabbath of the fourteenth year, when the Bar Mitzvah is called up to read a chapter from the weekly portion of the Law. Usually celebrated with a party at which the boy gives a religious speech to assembled guests, who offer him presents, while the rabbi gives him his blessing.
    • 2Situated in the Sharon area, halfway between Haifa and Tel Aviv, 12km east of Hadera, overlooking Wadi 'Ara/Eiron Valley. Founded originally in October 1947 by Romanian immigrants, it was renamed Kibbutz Bar Kai (Hebrew for "star of daybreak") in 1949 to commemorate the end of WWII.
    • 3A Palestinian town in Israel.
    • 4Sources such as Charles Smith, Palestine and the Arab Israeli Conflict, Hanan Ashrawi, This Side of Peace, and Geoffrey Aronson, Israel Palestinians and the intifada concur that the First intifada actually began on December 9, 1987 with demonstrations at a funeral in Gaza for four Palestinians run over by an Israeli army truck. The uprising soon spread to the West Bank and although spontaneous in origin was based on long-term Palestinian frustrations with the conditions of Israeli rule, and to a lesser extent the external Palestinian leadership.
    • 5The Unified National Command of the Uprising [Arabic: al-Qiyada al-wataniyya al-Muwahada], was first announced in leaflets distributed in the West Bank on January 4, 1988. The National Command was designed to coordinate the activities of Palestinian nationalist groups such as Fateh, the People's Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and local communist groups.

  • What did you hear from the Palestinians you spoke with during the first intifada that surprised you?

    The biggest thing that struck me was that for 6 hours I was talking to a group of young refugees from Deheishe Refugee Camp and not once did I hear "right of return." What I heard from these young, mostly young men, in Deheishe in March of '88 was, "End the Occupation, create the Palestinian state, and let's live side by side in peace." Here was an uprising that was based in the Palestinian population. Instructions weren't coming from Tunisia; they were coming from here, from the refugee camps.1 And I thought that the moment had come when Israeli-Palestinian engagement could occur.

    • 1At the time of the first intifada the leadership of the PLO was based in Tunis having been pushed out of Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. The first intifada began spontaneously as a popular resistance that represented the frustrations and hopes of Palestinians within the West Bank and Gaza. As such the resistance had little to do with the actions of the leadership in Tunis and came to be directed by local leaders.

  • Why was it important for you to hear that the Palestinians you spoke with during the first intifada were focusing on ending the Occupation?

    It was important for me to know that there was a starting point for Israelis and Palestinians to talk to each other that was based on the possibility of mutual recognition, not one on the account of the other, and not one in the place of the other; that it was no longer a zero-sum game, that there was a place where Israelis could live and survive and exist. I always believed that the basis for coexistence is existence, that you can't have coexistence if one side is wiped off the map. So I thought this was something that I thought was new and important, and for a few days I thought about what could be done. I wrote a little advertisement, which I asked a friend to translate to Arabic, and I went down to three newspapers in East Jerusalem that come out in the territories and I published the ad on a Friday. The ad said something like, "If you believe in the two-state solution, if you believe the Palestinians and the Israelis can work together to develop peace, if you are a university graduate, if you're curious about this, give me a call," and I put my home phone number. By Saturday night I received 43 phone calls. I scheduled appointments with anyone who was willing to talk to me and for a week I sat and met 23 people, and the idea of creating IPCRI was born. I quit my job; I notified my board of directors and told them I was quitting. I went out to talk to Israelis and Palestinians about what could be done, what should be done. I made an error, I think, at that time, that I put too much emphasis on institutionalization.

  • What do you mean by "you put too much emphasis on institutionalization?"

    Well, it was no problem to find Israelis who were willing to give their name and support and to be on a board of directors of this joint institute, but at the time there were no Palestinians who were willing to give their name. Out of the tens of Palestinian leaders that I spoke to, I only met one who said it was a bad idea. All the others said it was a very good idea, but it was too soon, we weren't ready for it. Everyone wanted to know who else gave their name, and when I couldn't use any name, people said, "When you get someone's name, come back to me." I don't remember the date, but when Faisal Husseini was released from prison, I went to see him on the night that he was released.1 I went to his home, I had never met him before, but I knew that he was a leader. I arrived at his home and there were 200 - 300 people waiting on line to shake his hands and kiss his cheeks. I knew that I wouldn't have a chance to talk to him but I waited on line like everyone else. I introduced myself when it was my turn, and I gave him a letter and I said, "I think this is very important and I would like you to read it." The next morning I received a phone call from him. He had read my letter, and he asked me to come back. He interrogated me for about 20 minutes, and then said, "I'll support you. You have my name, and you can tell others that I'm supporting you." After Faisal joined on there was no problem getting Palestinians anymore.

    • 1From 1982-87 Husseini was under administrative detention before being placed in prison for three months in early 1987. This was followed by a further sentence of six months, his detention continuing sporadically until 1989.

  • Was that problematic for the Palestinians to meet with Israeli government representatives?

    Several months after we began I was called by the head of the Research Department of the Foreign Ministry in Israel, who sat me down and started the meeting by saying, "This meeting isn't taking place. If you say to anyone that it is, we'll deny it - we never met you. Secondly, why don't you change your name - Israel-Palestine Center - call it even the Israeli-Palestinian Center, that would be okay." I said, "You just don't get it. That's the point. The name is the context, the context is the name, and if you don't accept it today, believe me you will, because there is no other possible reality that we can live in that will enable us to reach peace." And of course eventually they do and we have officials from all the government ministries sitting in our various working groups, appointed and approved by the government. But then it was a struggle. It was very clear when the official negotiating process began, and the official negotiators began showing up at official negotiating sessions, that a large number of them knew each other for years because they had been meeting under our framework.

  • Were you involved in some of those negotiation sessions at the governmental level?

    Later and during the Barak years, at the end of the process, I was a member of the experts committee on Jerusalem. I was not a negotiator, but I provided information to the negotiators, which they basically didn't use.

  • Can you give me an overview of the programs here?

    Conceptually what we do are peace making and peace building. Peace making we loosely define as bringing Israelis and Palestinians together in the policy arena to develop alternatives for advancing peace between the two sides. Peace building we loosely call bringing Israelis and Palestinians together to work on issues that they have to work together on. Within that framework IPCRI is divided into three main department areas. Our big new department, or new organization, is our strategic affairs department. We have a water and environment department and a peace education department, which are in the area of peace building. The peace education program today is running in 50 schools in Israel and in the West Bank. We have curriculum that was prepared for 10th and 11th grade classrooms; next year we'll be introducing a new curriculum in the Palestinian schools for the 10th and 11th grades. We also had a team working on writing supplementary material in peace education this year, and by the end of the school year we'll have 100 lesson plans from kindergarten through 12th grade on peace education. By the end of next year we'll have 200 lesson plans, and we're conducting teacher training this summer on those lesson plans. The Israeli curriculum was also rewritten this school year and reintroduced into the schools that are taking part. All in all there are between 300 - 400 teachers in the program, about 5,000 students are going through the program this year. We also did evaluations this year of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks. We wrote reports on textbooks and recommendations on how the textbooks on both sides can and should be improved. Next week we'll be issuing a second report on Palestinian textbooks that we issued this year on 4th and 9th grade textbooks. We have about 16 people on the educational staff. In terms of our water and environment program, we have a number of activities going on right now, a rather large activity on agriculture. We are organizing a very large water conference. The Israeli water commissioner is coming, and the Palestinian water commissioner is coming, and all the chief hydrologists. The Israeli water commissioner is a member of the steering committee of the conference, so is the head of the Palestinian water commission. We have a whole program on dealing with agriculture and the environment, because the Israelis and the Palestinians will no longer be able to export to Europe by the end of this year if they don't meet the new environment standards in Europe, so it has both an economic impact and an environmental impact of working with the farmers to stop using poisonous chemicals and use more advanced environmental green technologies. So that program is a major emphasis. Our strategic affairs department has now established 12 joint strategy thinking teams that are working on a regular basis now, and we're taking them abroad for long weekend meetings three times between now and November. We're building up to November 22-23, when there is going to be a major policy conference held in Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Gaza. People will be hooked up with video-conferencing. The conference is aimed at trying to learn lessons from our errors in the past, enabling the public to be involved in the public policy debates and discussions, and focusing a lot of media attention on an event where Israelis and Palestinians will hopefully be interacting in a constructive way. The goal is to have about 150 Israelis and Palestinians who are empowered in these strategic thinking teams. It's no longer something which is being focused and organized and directed by IPCRI, but it's really empowering this team with two team leaders, an Israeli and a Palestinian trying to model down this cooperation and partnership.

  • Where do the people who will participate in the policy conference come from?

    All over. In general, the people that we involved in the programs come from three areas: civil service, government; academia; and professional people. We made a concerted effort of bringing in about 1/3 new people that we've never worked with before, people who are outside of what's called the 700 club-- the 700 Israelis and Palestinians who have been involved in peace work for the last 15 years and know each other very well and travel around the world in the peace circuits.

  • What do you hope to accomplish?

    Well, our hopes are on the here and now, on creating possibilities for Israeli-Palestinian reengagement. Everyone's talking about disengagement. Well, disengagement politically is a good thing if it's done in coordination and cooperation through negotiations. We are not working on final status issues. We've been working on final status issues for 14 years. In our assessment, basically most of the options, alternatives, possibilities have been researched to hell. There's very little more at this point in time that we can come up with that would be creative new ideas on how to deal with Jerusalem or how to deal with the settlements, or any of these final status issues. They're not relevant at this point in time. Our focus is here and now: how do we get out of the impasse, how do we rebuild trust. Our assessment is that most Israelis and Palestinians are ready to make peace with each other in terms of their understanding of the substantive issues, and the compromises that they are willing to reach. In a certain paradoxical way, we're closer to peace than we ever were before, but on the other hand we're further away from peace than we ever were before, and it's mainly because of the lack of trust that exists. If at the beginning of Oslo we could say there was a zero basis of trust, and we need to build on that, we talked about confidence building measures and all, today we're at a negative basis: "I know the Palestinians won't do whatever they say they're going to do, I know that the Israelis won't do whatever it is they say they're going to do." So it's this negative. Most Israelis and most Palestinians don't believe there's a partner on the other side. It's so amazing for one who's in this field to hear the same sentences from both sides about the other side. It amazes me the extent that Israelis and Palestinians are incapable of realizing the opposite side's narrative. And not the narrative from 1948, but the narrative of the last 4 years: they're completely different stories! We have to find a way of reengaging, of bringing as many people as possible into the field and building up to a process where we can open this up to the world, to the media, to the Israeli and Palestinian publics.

  • I have a question about the textbook study. Where is that—who's using it?

    Well, it's on the PLO's website, the negotiation affairs department. It was used by the Palestinians in their report to congress and the European Union. We could have written a much harsher report than we did, to be truthful. We're not attempting to demonize Palestinian education or Palestinian educators, but to create an opportunity to engage the Palestinian Ministry of Education to consider how they can improve what they're doing. And therefore there are statements that are used in our study that are quoted by the Palestinians that are truthful statements but are only partially truthful, like, "The textbooks don't incite openly against Jews, against Israel, etc." It's true that they don't openly incite against, because they completely ignore the existence of Israel. So, other reports talk about the non-recognition as being the message that that Palestinians are passing on. Our report opened the doors and a second report which will be submitted to the Palestinian Ministry of Education is a list of specific recommendations that we made for changing the wording in some textbooks, or for amending the textbooks or for improving them. A 4th and 9th grade review of textbooks will be coming out in a couple of weeks. And we felt we had an obligation to do a study on Israeli textbooks as well, although didn't have funding to do it. We've gotten some of our teachers to conduct a study on a parallel set of critera that we're using to evaluate the Palestinian textbooks, and that's up on our website also.

  • Can you talk a little bit about why you're working in an NGO now, instead of in the government, where you started out?

    I left government because I thought I could be a lot more effective as an NGO.1 For one, the government didn't give me the budgets that I wanted to work with. Today I think if I were an Israeli civil servant in the government, I would be trapped. I don't know how I would be able to represent the government of Israel, what it's doing and what it's done. I have the freedom and the ability as an Israeli citizen to work for the benefit of what I perceive as Israeli national interest, to do it independently and freely. My reputation is based on what I do, what I achieve, my integrity. I'm free to criticize the government of Israel, which I do all the time, I'm free to criticize the Palestinian government all the time, which is what I do, and to offer constructive criticism. Would I be more effective if I were a senior civil servant in the Israeli government today? It's hard to tell. What if I were an advisor to the Prime Minister? Would he listen to me? I doubt it.

    • 1Non-governmental organization.

  • What are some of the challenges that you face?

    The main challenge that anyone in this field faces is how you wake up every morning and continue doing what you're doing when you read the newspapers and you hear the news and it seems absolutely hopeless. So much violence, so many people being killed. Last week we had meetings of our strategic working groups, and we had 80 people—we were supposed to be in Turkey and we couldn't get permits for people to go to Turkey, and we decided to hold the meeting anyway, and we held it in Haifa. Thursday night when we got the permits for the West Bankers, the army told us to wait until Friday morning for the permits for the Gazans. Friday morning we called, and we were told that any of the Gazans from the north of Gaza who could get to the Erez checkpoint1 would be allowed to go. It just so happened that the Chief of Staff and the Commander of the Southern Command was in Gaza and the army had set up a checkpoint before Erez and they were stopped at that checkpoint. The general of the southern command who was with the Chief of Staff got word that we were trying to move Palestinians through this checkpoint, and the Chief of Staff blew up. He got hysterical, he said, "We're looking for body pieces of soldiers who were blown up yesterday,2 and Palestinians from Gaza are going to meet with Israelis?" and he prohibited it. Two teachers in our peace education program, one Israeli and one Palestinian, have been killed in the intifada. So that's the most difficult thing. The biggest challenge is how to keep going.

    • 1The northern entrance to the Gaza Strip.
    • 2On May 11th, 2004 an IDF armored personal carrier (APC) was destroyed by a bomb on the outskirts of Gaza City, resulting in the deaths of six soldiers. The next day another (APC) was destroyed by a bomb in the Rafah area, resulting in the deaths of a further five soldiers.

  • Do you have strategies for keeping yourself motivated and allowing yourself some rest?

    No, there's no rest here, ever. Even when I'm on holiday I'm working. My computer is with me all the time; I'm hooked in 24 hours a day. For me it is the realization, the recognition that we have no alternative. We have no alternative. There are people out there who are saying the two-state solution is dead, we have to talk about the one-state solution. I don't believe there is such a thing as the one-state solution. I think there's a one-state disaster, and if we have to come to the point where the two-state solution is no longer an option, then we are deciding that Israel and Palestine become Sarajevo, and instead of talking about 4,000 - 5,000 people killed in a 4 year period, we're talking about 250,000 people.1 That's the alternative direction. So that knowledge, that awareness, that belief keeps me going with more intensity and more activity. We've doubled the size of IPCRI over the past year. We haven't gotten the funding for it yet, but we're doing the work of double with the hope that we're going to get the funding. I'm starting to lose sleep over that now. But we'll get it. The other thing that gives me strength is the people that we work with. We have these meetings every week, all the time, and we're successfully bringing people together even with all the difficulties. People want to talk to each other and people want to remain in contact. With all the criticism around normalization and all that kind of garbage, we haven't lost people. The number of people wanting to be involved is growing.

    • 1Sarajevo is the capital of the multi-ethnic republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which declared independence from Yugoslavia in March 1992. Bosnia and Herzogovina was notable for being the only republic to emerge out of Yugoslavia that was not dominated by one single ethnic group, which as Baskin suggests, led to conflict between the various ethnicities in what is now referred to as the Bosnian War. This conflict led to the deaths of an estimated 250,000 people (this number is contested) some through deliberate policies of genocide.

  • Did you serve in the army?

    Yes, I did, and I was released from reserve duty last year. But for the past very long time I was in the Education Corps, and I lectured to officers about Palestinian society. For the years of the peace process I was a regular lecturer to the commanders of joint patrols,1 those who had to go and serve with the Palestinians. I made a point of telling these officers to break their orders, because they had very strange orders. These commanders of joint patrols were told that they shouldn't interact with the Palestinian officers at a personal level. You used to see these joint patrols when they would stop for their coffee break - they would park about 15 meters apart and sit down and drink their coffee separately, eat their sandwiches separately. I told them in these lectures—I was invited by the army to lecture as a reserve officer—that if they remember anything from my lecture, the one thing that they should remember is that they should use every opportunity they have to develop a personal relationship with these other people, because in a time of need it will not only help you to do your job, it may save your life. In fact, the first Israeli who was killed in the intifada was the commander of a joint patrol who was killed by his Palestinian counterpart.2 In every crisis in the period of the peace process the joint patrol system broke down, except in one area, the Jenin area, because the two commanders became very good personal friends. They had visited each other's homes, their families had become friends.

    • 1Joint patrols between Israeli and Palestinian security forces were established in the wake of The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (Oslo II), September 28, 1995, which put into place new security measures in the West Bank and Gaza in the wake of Israeli withdrawals. Joint patrols began in 1996.
    • 2On September 29, 2000 in the West Bank city of Qalqiliya/Kalkiliya, a Palestinian police officer, Nail Suliman, working with an Israeli policeman, Yossi Tabaja, on a joint patrol opened fire and killed his counterpart.

  • Can you talk about previous peace processes, and why you think they failed, or why they turned out the way they did?

    I think that what we have here is at least a 10 year experience of failed peace-making. Many people, I believe, misunderstand or misstate that the agreements themselves were bad agreements. In fact that's not a reflection of what really happened here. You can find flaws with every agreement, every treaty. The problem is that what they agreed on, they didn't implement. There was a great deal of good will at the beginning of the process, the good will got lost very quickly. 5 months into the process there was the Baruch Goldstein massacre in Hebron, at which point I think the Palestinians began to lose good will. The peace process brought with it a situation that made life more difficult for Palestinians rather than easier, with the whole policy of closures and permits that developed in the peace process. Before the peace process Palestinians could move throughout this land freely, no checkpoints, no permits. And all of a sudden you have a peace process and life becomes more difficult? The fruits of peace never showed up for most common people. The agreements were never implemented; there were different interpretations of what the agreements said, and of what the obligations to the agreements were. Violence didn't stop, terrorism didn't stop. The power of the spoilers, the extremists on both sides grew. The Israeli leaders from Rabin on didn't know how to confront the settlers, and they became more and more powerful. What were good intentions became bad intentions and lack of trust. As the breaches grew, and there were no mechanisms within the agreements to deal with breaches other than complaining about them, it became such that the breaches were more than what was being implemented, and people lost faith in the peace process. I think that Barak went to the end of the peace process being advised by almost everyone that it was too early to go for a summit: that it was wrong to try to reach end of conflict at this point; that there were at least two issues that would take more time—Jerusalem and the refugees; that enough preparation work hadn't been done to prepare the publics for peace, to close the gaps between them, to build a process that was good for people, that they could believe in it. So I think all of these things together: the peace process didn't build into it a culture of peace. The people to people aspect of Oslo was an afterthought; it wasn't an inherent part of the peace building. There was this attitude that the leaders would make peace agreements and it would trickle down to the people and everyone would celebrate in peace, and it didn't happen.

  • Where do you see yourself and your work in relation to restarting a peace process?

    I hope that the work we are doing this year will be very significant and that it will have an impact, that we will have serious people presenting serious recommendations that will have to be taken seriously by decision makers. I think our comprehensive approach that we are taking now enables the interaction and integration of the areas that are linked. We have an economic development group and a water group and an agriculture group and an environment group- these are all inter-linked- and a security group, and we have a group dealing with the specific issues of security and movement of people, looking at the technical aspects of what kind of technology can be brought in. Dealing with security issues is not new in this world. Millions of people move through airports and through seaports, goods are moving every day, and the security of the world is not threatened. They have developed technologies to deal with it. Our experience is that whenever you bring Israelis and Palestinians together to discuss these issues, the Palestinians raise the problems and the Israelis say, "security, there's nothing we can do, security." So we decided to try to deal with that by bringing together former security officials who are now working in the private sector selling security equipment all around the world. They have the knowledge, and the experience, they know what the problems are, they know what the system is. They're working with a group of Palestinians who are also from security and from the business world, who can bring to them the problems that they face on the ground, and come up with practical solutions.

  • In the big picture, do you see anything that makes you optimistic right now?

    Well, public opinion polls make me optimistic. When almost 80% of Israelis say "let's get out of Gaza and let's remove all the settlements,"1 that makes me very optimistic. 150,000 Israelis showed up in Tel Aviv for the demonstration;2 that makes me very optimistic. You know you can find all kinds of things when you read public opinion polls; there are great contradictions within them. The majority of Palestinians still support going back to a peace process even at the same time that they still support killing Israelis.3 So there are reasons to be optimistic, but not many.

    • 1A poll appearing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, conducted by the Peace Index Project, in December 2003 showed that 80 percent of Israelis supported the evacuation of settlements in Gaza within the framework of a peace agreement.
    • 2A demonstration in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv on May 15, 2004 supporting the government pullout in Gaza attracted 150,000 participants (organizers estimated 250,000 people). Speakers included Shimon Peres (Labor), Yossi Beillin (Yahad), Ami Ayalon (former head of Shin Bet), and leaders of Peace Now.
    • 3The Jerusalem Media & Communication Centre Public Opinion Poll No. 48, April 2003: "On Palestinian Attitudes Towards the Palestinian Situation in General," reported that most Palestinians, 48.6 percent, believe that the continuation of the intifada and negotiations together is the best path to achieve Palestinian National goals and end the occupation. A follow-up poll in October 2003 found that that 51.2 believe that the continuation of the intifada and negotiations is the best path to achieve Palestinian national goals. Both polls found a majority in support of suicide bombings.