Thursday, October 13, 2011

'The Man Who Was There'

A lot has been written the past two days about the deal reached to free Gilad Shalit. Undoubtedly there will be a lot more as we wait for Shalit's release expected early next week. Here's a story that seems not to have garnered much attention in the American press. Fortunately, my friend Professor Shapir has been on top of the situation and has provided the blog with a translation of a Hebrew article reporting on the central role of Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin in arriving at the deal.

The Man Who Was There: The Director Mediator Between Israel and Hamas

Updated 00:03 13/10/2011Raviv Drucker and Shlomi EldarOutwardly, he led the negotiations to free the kidnapped soldier, Gilad Shalit, Netanyahu's envoy, David Meidan. But the last five years running Gershon Baskin, director of  Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, conducted direct contacts with Hamas that last July led to the breakthrough in talks. "I told them that if they want to reach an agreement - this is the time," he recalls.

What exactly led to the breakthrough in Shalit deal is not really clear, but it is clear who made the breakthrough. For five years he conducted direct contacts with Hamas and last July he handed over to the Prime Minister's envoy for negotiations, David Meidan, the position paper of Hamas that brought the breakthrough. Last night (Wednesday), after approved by a large majority, one of the main persons at the origin of the Shalit deal was exposed. 

Three days after Shalit was kidnapped, someone in the Gaza Strip established a relationship with Gershon Baskin, director of IPCRI, and soon afterwards a contact was made between him and Dr. Razi Hamad, then media advisor of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. This communication channel created a direct communication line between Israel and Hamas chief of staff, Ahmed Jabari, who directed the last round of talks. "In the last five years since the abduction we talked several times a week," said Baskin on his relations with Hammad. "In recent weeks we talked about five - ten times a day. I also went to Egypt at some point and I met the Egyptian mediator." 

According Baskin, the change came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, decided to go to the deal despite opposition in principle, and after the appointment of David Meidan, who, according to Baskin, was ready "to try things previous envoys were opposed to." Hamas, too, he explains, was flexible. "Hamas agreed to be flexible when they realized that the prime minister is serious and is flexible as well," he says. "Two weeks before the document on July 14th, I received a document much more extreme. I told them that if they want to reach an agreement, this is the time, that the Prime Minister is willing to reach an agreement, but they must understand that if they pull the rope too tight it would break, and there will be no agreement as long as you insist these requirements."

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