The following is excerpted from Gershon Baskin’s column in the Jerusalem Times, Aug. 6. Baskin is co-CEO of IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information:
The Israeli public has … not seen much of the tremendous destruction in Lebanon. My sense is that the Israeli media is a full partner in the military campaign and the level of self censorship by the media reached new heights. Perhaps that explains, at least in part, why more than 80% of the public has backed the government. From the Israeli side there is a clear reality of being under attack. The civilian population was never so attacked as it was in this war. More than half a million Israelis are displaced people, having to leave their homes and communities which are under Hezbollah rocket fire. More than 500 Israeli homes have been destroyed by those missiles and the civilian and military casualty rate is climbing by the day.
It is also interesting to note the high level of civilian casualties amongst Israel’s Arab population – some one-third of the civilian casualties have been Arabs, and there is great concern that very few of those citizens blame Hezbollah and Nasrallah for their bad fate….
… it would be wise for Israel to use the new opportunities for renewing the Israel-Syria track, but this is only possible if the United States decides to offer Syria an opportunity of being pulled away from Iranian influence. It has been said that there are signals from Damascus that Assad would like to move in this direction. Syria’s price to pay would be the sealing of its border to Iraq, the end of weapon shipments and financial flows to Hezbollah and the closing of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad offices in Damascus. In exchange, Syria would get the Golan Heights (which would be demilitarized and an international force would be stationed there) and massive western and US financial aid. This seems to be the right hour to move in that direction, but it depends first and foremost on US diplomatic finesse and political will, both of which seem to be in short supply.
The Palestinian front….
The war in Gaza, called Summer Rain, is continuing without anyone paying attention. Palestinians are being killed everyday and the southern part of Gaza is being destroyed by Israeli bombs and bulldozers. Gaza is completely out of the news. The kidnaped soldier in Gaza, Gilead Shalit, is believed to be alive, but there have been no signs of life from him since his abduction more than a month ago. There have been a lot of negotiations between the parties, mostly through the Egyptians, that include a mutual cease fire and a prisoner release, after Shalit is released. Israel has made it clear that there are no negotiations with the Hamas leadership in Gaza or Damascus and all contacts with the Palestinians are through Mahmoud Abbas. Israel has made it clear that any release of prisoners would be “given” to Abbas. Recent reports have spoken about some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners being considered for early release, including the minors and women prisoners number over 400. Israeli sources have stated that a large scale prisoner release was already in the works prior to the kidnaping of Shalit. The release was going to take place after the Olmert-Abbas summit that never took place. It is still completely unclear to me why that summit has not yet taken place. Olmert and his ministers still talk about the need to strengthen Abbas, but they seem to be doing nothing to work in that direction.
The November 2005 agreement on access and movement has largely not been implemented – something that would help to strengthen Abbas and the Palestinian economy as well as other steps that could help to rebuild an Israeli-Palestinian track through Abbas. The approval of the Palestinian conciliation document between the Palestinian factions empowers Abbas to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians with the approval and recognition of all of the factions….