In this interview Gershon Baskin, founder and CEO at the Israel and Palestine Center for Research and Information said ” Western experts seem to believe that the Assad regime is counting its days, that this regime will not be able to sustain the force of the uprising and, of course, the violence used by this regime against the uprising is creating the situation where this regime seems that it will collapse”
Interview with Gershon Baskin, founder and CEO at the Israel and Palestine Center for Research and Information in Jerusalem.
Syrian unrest has been escalating all the time as the Syrian military forces are shooting at more and more cities and towns around the country and more and more Syrian citizens are paying the price for the dictatorship in Syria with their own lives, when the Syrians are bombing towns and cities from the sea, from the land and there are many Palestinian refugees there who are also being hit. The Syrian army rockets and gunfire do not distinguish between people there and the Palestinians in the refugee camp who are now fleeing for their lives once again under attack and fire which is coming from the Syrian government which is the host country of these Palestinian refugees in Syria. So, this is spilling over the borders and we see Turkish forces mobilizing on the front for fear of massive attempts of Syrian citizens to become refugees in Turkey and the fleeing Palestinian refugees from a refugee camp in Syria now as well.
Why is there a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria?
Because in 1948 some 600,000-700,000 Palestinians took refuge in the aftermath of the war which led to the birth of the state of Israel and not to the birth of the Palestinians state as was supposed to happen in the UN resolution of 1947 and these Palestinians were escaping the fire with the hope that they would come back home at the end of the war. They did not go back to their homes and they became refugees. The other country in the Arab world which accepted them and granted them citizenship was Jordan, but even there they lived in refugee camps. They have been living in refugee camps from more than 60 years in Syria, in Lebanon and in other countries of the Middle East.
Does that mean that there are more Palestinian refugee camps in the region?
The largest refugee community is, of course, within Palestine itself. In Gaza and on the West Bank, there are about more than a million people who are living in refugee camps, who are defined as refugees; about half of the population of the West Bank and Gaza is defined as refugees. There is a large refugee population of around 350,000 thousand Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and between 150,000-200,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria.
Is there a chance that the most radical of the Palestinian organizations might want to retaliate?
I think that the Palestinian organizations and the Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah and the Hamas government in Gaza are all concerned about the welfare of the Palestinians who are under attack now in Syria by the Syrian government. This currently creates big problems for the Hamas leadership and for the other radical groups’ leadership in Syria who are hosted by the Syrian government because they cannot voice their disloyalty to President Assad, but at the same time their own people, their own constituents are under attack by the Assad regime, so that is a very uncomfortable situation for the Palestinian radical groups that have found a home in Syria over these years.
Do I get it right that the Syrian unrest might actually trigger off some kind of chain reaction?
I do not think so. I think we actually see some kind of stabilization in Lebanon now, probably because of the fear they have in Lebanon of the danger that the Syrian unrest could bring to Lebanon; they do not want to go back to the civil war. The Jordanian regime is engaging in serious democratic reforms for fear of the spillover, of the uprising in Jordan and we have to watch the situation in Jordan very carefully. But the regime in Jordan is also quite secure because of the fact that the majority of the population in Jordan are Palestinians and the Jordanian Hashemite Kingdom hopes that there is a chance that that would become a Palestinian state and they hope that the Palestinian issue would change. So, it is pretty much limited to Syria right now and, of course, we see it in Libya all the time, and the situation in Iraq is still unstable. We do not know a lot of it and it seems that there will be a wave of unrest spreading as a result of Syria. So, we have to watch the situation because if the Assad regime falls – and it seems it is going towards this condition – then Syria could easily break up into a series of denominational, intercommunity wars between the Sunni, and the Shia, and the Alawis, and the Druze, and the Christians ‑ it could break down into some kind of internal civil war as well.
You actually believe that the whole situation would still be contained within Syria?
I think it would be contained within Syria for some time. We have to watch it very carefully as this unfolds. Western experts seem to believe that the Assad regime is counting its days, that this regime will not be able to sustain the force of the uprising and, of course, the violence used by this regime against the uprising is creating the situation where this regime seems that it will collapse, but we have no idea what will emerge after it.