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Gershon Baskin, the Israeli Co-Director and founder of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) located in Jerusalem, has the mission to bring about the resolution of the conflict based on two states for two peoples. This is a man who was on the Israeli security watch list for four years, and just a month after, became an advisor to the Prime Minister on the peace process. There may be no one more knowledgeable on how to reach peace than him.

In 1988, Baskin wanted to create a new kind of dialogue based on conflict resolution. He placed an ad in three Palestinian newspapers in east Jerusalem saying to contact him “if you believe in a two-state solution and that Israelis and Palestinians can work together for peace”. By the next evening, he had received 43 phone calls.

“The basic idea was to create this safe space and to bring experts from both sides to talk to each other about how to resolve the issues.”

The groups worked together to form proposals to solve the key issues of the conflict: the question of Palestinian statehood and the nature of its sovereignty, the delineation of borders between two states, the future of Jerusalem, the refugee issue, the physical link between the West Bank and Gaza, the issue of economic relation, and the issue of water.

Most of the functions of the groups have been achieved, says Baskin. “This is the most researched conflict in the history of conflicts. There’s no magic anymore about how to resolve this conflict, we know how to do it. The issues are no longer technical in nature, the issues are political, the issues are about building trust, the issues are recognizing that the two parties can’t do it by themselves.”

Yet Baskin describes how, even with the extent of IPCRI’s contributions and research, mistrust after 18 years of a failed peace process lies at the heart of the conflict.

“The overwhelming majority of Israelis and the overwhelming majority of Palestinians want peace. That’s not the issue. The issue is: are the Israelis and the Palestinians willing to pay the price of peace? Are they willing to make the concessions necessary for peace to exist? The primary limiting factor that we face on this issue is the total lack of trust.”

A majority of both sides don’t believe the other is a partner for peace, says Baskin. “After more than a thousand Israelis were killed by Palestinians in the second intifada, it’s been very difficult to erase that. The whole young generation today…are people who came of age during the violence of the second intifada and the memory of the second intifada is what shapes the public today on the Israeli side. You can say the same thing on the Palestinian side. They paid such a heavy price for that second intifada. But they took a constructive path and Israel is still in a reactive mode.”

“If there is no forward movement in a peace process, then we will devolve into another round of violence. I think that there’s a misconception…that there’s time left on the clock, and I don’t believe there is. When the current generation of the Palestinian leaders finish their role in history, the next generation of Palestinian leaders will not be competing amongst themselves on the basis of..who’s more willing to negotiate peace with Israel…We’re looking at one or two years maximum if there isn’t a fundamental change in  the nature of relations between the two parties.”

The options the two parties have to avoid another round of violence “may be either having public opinion wake up to that reality that we’re beginning to walk down a road too dangerous to take, or our leaders change, or third parties (The US) force us to change, or we may see steps taken by both sides that will change the entire scene.”

How does Gershon Baskin, a man who has been working for peace for over 30 years, continue to do so after so many failures?

“Every single aspect of the conflict is resolvable. That should give us hope. And I see how the trust that people have in me enables me to talk to them about really difficult issues. It also is based on compassion. And I believe in the power of compassion, it’s a lot more powerful than the power of hate. We have a lot more hate in our societies than we do compassion, but I believe it’s possible to create that.

Baskin closes with a smile and the words: “I’ve never met a pessimistic peacemaker. We have to be hopeful.”

I leave IPCRI’s office and walk down the large hill which it sits upon overlooking all of Jerusalem and areas of the West Bank. Gershon left me with a copy of his article printed in the Jerusalem Post that morning on what gives him hope. Reading it from this lookout point of Arab and Jewish communities, I know that keeping peace on the table and in the air is fully dependent on people like Gershon Baskin and his team of people willing and eager to come together, sit down, and work as a team to find sustainable solutions.

To learn more about IPCRI, visit their website: http://www.ipcri.org/IPCRI/Home.html

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