U.S. native behind Shalit deal: Swap won't lead to more kidnappings
After securing the deal for Shalit, Gershon Baskin learned that his talking days had just begun, as he became inundated with interview requests from journalists, joking on his Twitter account that 'dealing with the Israeli media is more difficult than negotiations with the Hamas.'
The American-born academic behind the swap deal for Gilad Shalit told Anglo File this week that while the terms of the agreement were not ideal, he does not believe trading over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for one captured Israeli will encourage more kidnappings.
"There are very difficult things about this deal, there's no doubt," said Gershon Baskin, who heads the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information. "It would have been much better if Israel could have done another Entebbe and gone in and brought out Shalit alive. But it wasn't in the cards, it wasn't possible."
However, the New York native believes the terms of the deal won't sway Hamas' tactics in dealing with Israel.
"They don't need encouragement - Hamas would kidnap more if they had the opportunities to do it," he said. "It's the same thing with releasing a few hundred more terrorists. Most of them will probably go back and live a normal life with their families. It's not going to change the quotient. If Hamas decides it wants to go back to a violent struggle, they have hundreds of people there - young up-and-comers who are willing to take guns or blow themselves up."
Baskin's work with the center allowed him to make contact with a senior Hamas member that eventually led to the fruitful negotiations for Shalit's release.
He says, though, he would rather have dealt with their more moderate counterparts at the Palestine Liberation Organization in the framework of a peace deal.
"Let's reward positive behavior [like] diplomacy," he said. Releasing prisoners "is a very important card in Palestinian society. Let's play the card for something positive, not for prisoner exchanges of kidnapped soldiers, but for creating a dynamic situation where Palestinians have more motivation to reach a peace agreement with us."
Baskin immigrated to Israel in 1978 after completing a degree at New York University.
Four years earlier, he visited Israel for a year with the Young Judaea youth movement, a trip that starting him on his track of advancing Arab-Israeli relations.
"I was working at the movement's national camp," he recalled. "I had a map on my board next to my bed with little pins in it connecting all the points that I've visited during the year in Israel. One day I came back to the room and someone had drawn a green line on the map. All of a sudden I had this kind of epiphany - it was a really intensive year on Young Judaea Year Course and I took time this summer trying to absorb everything that happened that year. And all of a sudden I realized that I just spent a year in Israel and I didn't have one conversation with an Arab. I realized at that point that I had this huge hole in my consciousness, my knowledge, my awareness."
Baskin began reading everything about the Arab-Israeli conflict he could get his hands on, started meeting Arabs and learning Arabic. "It opened up a whole new world," he said.
Baskin joined the Interns for Peace program and lived for two years in Kafr Kara, an Arab Israeli village near Haifa.
He then started working for the Education Ministry and became the first Israeli civil servant responsible for Jewish-Arab relations in the school system.
In 1988, he created the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, which calls itself the world's only joint Israeli-Palestinian public policy think tank and which he still heads.
After securing the deal for Shalit, Baskin learned that his talking days had just begun, as he became inundated with interview requests from journalists, joking on his Twitter account that "dealing with the Israeli media is more difficult than negotiations with the Hamas."