Gershon Baskin

Secret back channels


Gershon Baskin. Photo: Otmar Steinbicker

Tuesday, October 18 marked five years since the return of Gilad Schalit to his home after five years and four months in captivity in Gaza. We can all argue about the price that was paid for his release and probably everyone agrees that it was too high, but at the time of his release close to 80 percent of the Israeli public supported the deal and 26 ministers voted for it, while only three opposed. The support of the deal in the government was of course led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Most of the public does not know that had Schalit remained in captivity one month more, he probably would have died from malnutrition.

Netanyahu’s decision to support the deal and to advance the secret back channel that led to it was based primarily on the so-called unwritten covenant between the State of Israel and the people of Israel that we don’t leave anyone behind. That is one of the pillars on which Israel stands and which enables Israel to have a “people’s army.”

I was contacted by Hamas six days after Schalit was abducted. Two-and-a-half months later I produced the first sign of life from him: a handwritten letter that was delivered to the representatives of Egypt in Gaza and proved not only that he was alive, but also that there was a communication channel that led directly to his captors.

Despite that, it took another five years to convince the government of Israel to listen to me and to utilize the direct channel between me and the Hamas leadership. It was the wisdom of former Mossad officer David Meidan and the courage of Netanyahu that led to the deal that brought Gilad home to Israel.

Many third-party mediators tried their hand at negotiating between Israel and Hamas; it was only the secret back channel that worked. The third-party mediator came in at the final stage to lock in the deal, but the secret direct contact is what make that possible.

After Schalit came home, I was convinced that the same formula would be adopted by Netanyahu to reach a permanent-status peace deal with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. It was and remains clear to me that both Netanyahu and Abbas lack the internal political strength and stability to enable negotiations on the core issues (borders, refugees, security and Jerusalem).

Genuine Israeli-Palestinian permanent-status negotiations would bring down the Israeli government and would probably be the final straw for Abbas’s political legitimacy. If, on the other hand, Abbas and Netanyahu were to conclude an agreement in secret direct negotiations and present that agreement to their respective publics in either new elections or a referendum, I strongly believe that it would pass on both sides with significant majorities.

Netanyahu would not present an agreement to the public without buy-in from the Israeli national security heads, just as the Schalit deal was presented to the public and the government with the support of the IDF Chief of Staff, the head of the Mossad, the head of the Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency) and most of the other senior national security establishment. This is how the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement would be presented to the public.

While about 30% of the Israeli Jewish public would vote against any deal with the Palestinians (this is my estimate) some 70% of the Jewish public could vote in favor, in addition to the 21% of the Israeli public represented by Palestinian citizens of Israel. On the Palestinian side, I estimate that a similar 30% of the public would reject any peace deal with Israel, but 70%, including in Gaza, could potentially support it.

I believe that peace can only be reached through a negotiated agreement and that the only way to conduct successful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is through a secret back channel. The most successful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were conducted in this way – the original negotiations in Oslo and the 42 meetings between prime minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas that brought us closer to an agreement than ever before.

I presented the proposal of a secret back channel to Abbas on several occasions over the past years and he immediately agreed. At that time, Netanyahu was not prepared to enter such a process. Today I am not sure Abbas would be prepared to enter into secret negotiations with Netanyahu, although I think he would.

I am not sure Netanyahu is any more prepared than he was in the past to advance such a channel. I can say with authority that several of the ministers in his government to whom I proposed bringing the idea to Netanyahu over the past 12 months refused to take it to the boss. Netanyahu declares in public his willingness to negotiate with Abbas, but he is well aware of Abbas’s political weakness and the almost impossible situation that even meeting Netanyahu in public would create for him.

I still believe that the only way forward is a secret back channel. I also believe that a serious proposal from one of these leaders to the other to open such a channel would lead to it taking place. There are no guarantees of a positive result from such negotiations, but one thing is guaranteed – there will be no peace without negotiations and genuine negotiations will not take place without the leaders negotiating directly.

Gershon Baskin ist Autor des Aachener Friedensmagazins Seine Beiträge finden Sie hier

World Wide Web

Beiträge von Gershon Baskin

The inevitability of peace

From Washington to Jerusalem

Eight pieces of advice to Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt

Becoming a real, effective democracy requires a real, effective opposition

Only two states – nothing else

The fatal Israeli-Gaza mistake (2)

The fatal Israeli-Gaza mistakes

The wisdom to limit our rights

Where to, Israel?

Get out of our lives already!

The authority of the Authority


The state of denial

Settlements, annexation and the death of Zionism

It’s not just the economy

Encountering peace?

Building a shared society

Excuse me for asking

Secret back channels


The Left is right

A moment of opportunity

The worst negotiations, the best negotiations

Palestinian suffering makes no sense for Israel

Creating a compelling vision for peace

It is also in our hands

There is no partner


The partnership challenge

A new intifada?

After Abbas

A bad agreement is better than no agreement

Israel’s strategic choices regarding Gaza


Jerusalem of peace, Jerusalem of war

The Gaza challenge

Is Hamas prepared to end this war with a long-term ceasefire?

Some thoughts this morning

Regional forum for security and stability – Gaza first

After a long phone conversation with a Hamas leader in Gaza

Don’t destroy Gaza, build it!

Framework document for the establishment of permanent peace (part 3 of 3)

Framework document for the establishment of permanent peace (part 2 of 3)

Framework document for the establishment of permanent peace


My Conversation With Hamas

Keine Fortsetzung des Unilateralismus!

Diesen Weg müssen wir einschlagen!


Eine Ein-Staat-Realität ist nicht durchführbar

Mord an der Chance für Ruhe

Das Ende des Raketenbeschusses aus Gaza

Es gibt einen Ausweg

Atomwaffen raus aus dem Arsenal

Was Abbas Israel sagen sollte

Ist mein zionistischer Traum gestorben?