Tel Aviv, Asharq Al-Awsat – Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, who served as an intermediary between Hamas and Tel Aviv during the negotiations over the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Hamas commander Ahmed al-Jabari had been killed just hours after receiving the draft of a permanent truce with Israel. He said that al-Jabari’s assassination represented the assassination of any real chance for a truce between Hamas and Israel, adding that a permanent truce deal had been in very advanced stages prior to al-Jabari’s death and that the Hamas commander had received the Arabic-language version of this truce just hours before he was killed.
Baskin claimed that Hamas and Israel had never been closer to a permanent truce than just prior to al-Jabari’s assassination, which began days of intense missile and rocket fire resulting so far in the deaths of 19 Palestinians, six of them children, and 3 Israeli civilians. He described the assassination as a “grievous mistake” by the Israelis, adding “whoever took the decision to launch this war did not think about tomorrow…this is a war without clear goals.”
The Israeli peace activist, who has served as an intermediary between Tel Aviv and Hamas, revealed that he had noticed an important change in al-Jabari over the past year, namely that the Hamas commander was ready to renounce armed action in return for an advantageous truce with Israel. He stressed that after the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt and other Arab states, al-Jabari had begun to think like a political official who has responsibility to the ordinary people, and this prompted him to be more open to accepting a truce with Israel.
He added that following his success, along with others, in securing a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas for the release of Gilad Shalit, he remained in contact with both parties as well as Egyptian officials with the objective of reaching a truce agreement between Hamas and Israel. Baskin revealed that he had been in Egypt just last week as part of his work to implement this truce agreement, adding that he had drafted a truce agreement that provided for the cessation of all hostilities between Hamas and Israel for an indefinite period of time. He informed Israeli parties of this truce agreement, and sent the text of the agreement to the Hamas leadership, however this was prior to al-Jabari’s assassination that most likely puts an end to such hopes. Baskin added that he had prepared a second truce agreement that was simpler and which formalized an initial 3 – 6 month truce, which would be extended if successful.
Baskin revealed that through his contacts with the Egyptian and Israeli sides, he was aware that this truce agreement had been circulated amongst the Hamas leadership in recent days, although al-Jabari had only received his copy of this on the morning of the day of his death.
Asharq Al-Awsat asked the Israeli peace activist for his analysis regarding Tel Aviv’s action in this regard, namely proposing a truce at the same time as planning an assassination operation. Baskin replied that “to be frank, I cannot say if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were aware of the extent of the progress in the discussions with Hamas and that this was nothing more than a ruse.”
As for who he is in contact with in Israel, Baskin said he had been in contact with “senior officials…including those who sit in on meetings of the security cabinet meetings.”
He added “I began this mediation a year ago, immediately following the release of Gilad Shalit and the Palestinian prisoners. I met with Ehud Barak and provided him with a copy of the truce agreement. He told me that he would take the issue very seriously, and a committee was established that included ministers and other concerned parties. However the Israeli government froze the process and took the decision not to decide…and in recent months I took the initiative to push this issue once more, and began to mediate with both sides again.”
The Israel peace activist stressed that Netanyahu and Barak were therefore aware, at least to some extent, about the existence of a truce agreement. He asserted that “the only thing that I am certain of is that we have a leadership that takes “genius” decisions without thinking about the next day.”
He added “as for this war that they began by assassinating the strongest figure in Hamas, they did not think about how it could develop, or shall we say deteriorate, or how many people will be killed for no reason.”
He stressed that “nobody knows how this situation will develop now, and by some fluke a Palestinian rocket could hit a bus full of people and dozens could be killed, or an Israeli air raid could mistakenly target a Palestinian funeral killing dozens or even hundreds.”
Baskin told Asharq Al-Awsat “everybody must know that such incidents which could lead to the deaths of innocents on both sides could be prevented by mediation to reach a truce agreement.”
As for whether he believes that the Egyptians could intervene to mediate a ceasefire, Baskin said “I have been in contact with Egyptian parties…and I understand that the Egyptians are very angry about the Israeli military actions as they were about the [Palestinian] firing of rockets. They say that they would first prefer for the situation to calm on both sides and do not see this as the right time to intervene.”
Asharq Al-Awsat also asked the Israeli peace activist what he knew about al-Jabari, he replied “he was a man with sweeping powers, a leader in every sense of the word. He was sincere in seeking a truce, and he played a large role in stopping the rocket fire into Israel by Palestinian factions. Even when Hamas was firing rockets, he made sure that these rockets landed in open spaces so that there were no human casualties.”
He added “I would like to say that after al-Jabari’s assassination there will be no address to Israel regarding seeking a ceasefire or truce. For Hamas now requires some time to replace al-Jabari.”
Returning to his description of the Israeli air strikes against the Gaza Strip as a “war without goals”, he made reference to the four objectives put forward by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, saying “these are misleading goals. For when he says that he wants to eliminate the missile batteries, how will he know that this has been achieved? And when he says he want to eliminate the terrorist leadership, who can guarantee that they won’t be replaced by even more radical enemies? Barak’s talk is based on exploiting the simple nature of the public and their enthusiasm for killing the enemy, however anybody who looks closely at what he and Netanyahu is saying will find that they are leading the country into a dangerous [military] adventure and unnecessarily causing the deaths of innocent people.”