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Baskin Played Big Role in Shalit Talks

A great many diplomats and intelligence officials from Egypt, Germany, France, Turkey and other countries tried for more than five years to broker an agreement between Israel and Hamas for Gilad Shalit’s release. Yet the breakthrough in July that led to the deal came from Gershon Baskin, the Israeli co-director of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information. He became the intermediary between senior Hamas officials and Israeli envoy David Meidan.

On July 14, Baskin passed on to Meidan a one-page document from the Deputy Foreign Minister in the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, Razi Hamed. Baskin has been in close contact with Hamed since Shalit’s abduction, in 2006. In the document, headed “A Proposal to Finalize the Deal,” Ahmed Ja’abari, the head of the Hamas military wing, signaled to Israel for the first time the organization’s willingness to demonstrate significant flexibility in its position.

For more than five years Baskin has been involved in efforts to obtain Shalit’s release, despite never being asked to do so by the Israeli government and frequently getting the cold shoulder from the military establishment and the Prime Minister’s Office.

Three days after Shalit’s abduction Baskin received a phone call from a teacher at the Islamic University of Gaza with close ties to Hamas he met at an academic conference in Cairo a few months earlier. Israel had responded to the abduction with a major military operation in Gaza. The academic put Baskin in touch with Hamed, a spokesman for the Hamas government, with the idea of opening a communication channel with Jerusalem.

Baskin, taking advantage of his acquaintance with Dana Olmert, the daughter of Ehud Olmert, delivered messages over the next three months from Hamas to the prime minister via Dana Olmert. “I didn’t get the impression that the messages influenced Olmert, and at one I realized he had asked his daughter to terminate contacts with me,” Baskin told Haaretz yesterday.

For more, go to Haaretz.com

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