Correction appended: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the number of people at the event.
Speaking last night before a crowd of about 90 people at the Michigan League, the head of a Jerusalem-based think tank advocated for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In a speech titled “Partners for Peace: Do they exist? Where are they now?” Gershon Baskin, founder and CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, praised the efforts of the current Palestinian leadership and condemned the center’s their Israeli counterparts. The organization works to develop policy options for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to the center’s website.
Baskin was invited to speak on campus by J Street UMich, the University’s chapter of J Street — a Jewish organization that supports a two-state solution.
“It saddens me deeply, as an Israeli patriot, as an Israeli citizen, as someone who defines himself as a Zionist, that the government of Israel today is not a partner for peace,” said Baskin, who isan American citizen by birth.
The Israeli government’s reluctance must be overcome soon, Baskin said, because for the first time ever, there’s a deadline on the resolution of the conflict. According to Baskin, the Palestinian Authority plans to declare statehood by the end of the year.
Baskin argued that the only solution is to create a separate Palestinian state. Otherwise, he said, the conflict will remain one of identity rather than territory.
“Today the circumstances are different because we have a Palestinian leadership, which for the first time in the history of the Palestinian national struggle, is doing everything right,” he said.
LSA sophomore Yonah Lieberman, chair of J Street UMich, said in an interview last night that the organization’s mission is to “fill a void” in the dialogue on campus about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Our slogan is, ‘pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, pro-peace’” Lieberman said. “We really think that both sides have legitimate qualms and legitimate points when it comes to where the final status and final agreements are going to be.”
Baskin said in his speech that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have committed themselves to implementing the guidelines set down in former President George W. Bush’s 2003 “road map” for peace.
Meanwhile, Baskin said, the Palestinians are currently in talks to gain the support of the United States as the Palestinian Authority petitions to become a member of the United Nations later this year.
Becoming a U.N. member, Baskin said, would be a “game-changer.”
“It may not change anything on the ground, but … once Palestine is a member state of the United Nations, Israel is no longer occupying undefined disputed territory,” he said.
According to Baskin, solutions do exist for the many conflicts the Israelis and Palestinians face, including questions of what to do with refugees and how to come to an agreement on Jerusalem’s future status as the potential capital of a future Palestinian state.
Lieberman said he’s long been interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, adding that Baskin gave the best speech he’s ever heard about the topic.
“I’ve never heard anyone speak so eloquently and so brilliantly about the conflict in a way that matches up with my own ideals,” Lieberman said.
Baskin said in an interview after his speech that the audience seemed receptive to his arguments. But Business sophomore Allison Berman said she wasn’t convinced.
“I thought it (was) a lot of rhetoric,” Berman said.
—Daily Staff Reporter Adam Rubenfire contributed to this report