PROPONENTS OF PEACE: Diplomats, scholars converge in Jackson Hole to address global issues for model UN conference

By on November 12, 2013
Negotiator Gershon Baskin

Negotiator Gershon Baskin

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Model UN grooms future leaders

Installing solar panels on the football field and planting gardens at the Wind River Indian Reservation are just a few projects that have inspired local high school students who think globally to act locally. The projects are sponsored by InterConnections 21, a Wilson-based nonprofit also sponsoring the Teton County Model United Nations conference set to begin next week at Jackson Hole High School.

The Model UN will include 250 students from 12 schools, bringing a diversity of opinions to the table and creating seven resolutions in three days. With guidance from a former U.S. ambassador and an Ivy League educated human rights lawyer, the eighth annual Teton County Model UN conference topics include whether the United States should intervene in Syria, the role of women in the developing world, and how communities are adjusting to climate change, among other issues.

Grants from Community Foundation of Jackson Hole and the Wyoming Humanities Council enabled InterConnections 21 to bring in two special guests from the University of Wyoming this year: former U.S. ambassador to Chad, Marc Wall, and international law professor Noah Novogrodsky.

“The speakers add a special dynamic that makes it seem real,” said Faith Hamlin, 18, a senior at Community School and this year’s secretary general. “These are real issues. I remember the first year I participated. I was a sophomore and there was a woman who ran a camp in India to educate girls and teach them personal hygiene. I just read about her school somewhere like The New York Times and how much it has grown. It was so cool.”

Susie Rauch, founder and president of InterConnections 21, is especially excited to invite the public to the student sessions this year. In addition to a keynote by Novogrodsky at the Community School on Monday evening, Model UN students will assume the role of diplomats in caucuses that will meet Tuesday through Thursday at Jackson Hole High School. At the end of the conference prizes will be awarded for the most outstanding student and best position paper from each school.

InterConnections 21, with the help of Hamlin and a number of parent volunteers, will have a help desk at the high school to guide the public to rooms where students will be discussing topics. They also will host a fundraising lunch with food from all over the world.

“You are being challenged to speak up about what you’ve learned and show what you have learned,” Hamlin said. “I’m not even worried about the future when I see all these leaders. They are younger than me and speaking so well.”

In addition to her involvement with the Model UN, Hamlin has traveled to the United Nations in New York and attended a UN student conference on human rights with InterConnections 21. Her interest in international human rights was sparked when she saw issues like hunger, firsthand.

“I spent five weeks in Peru after my freshman year,” Hamlin said. “To see all the problems and understand what’s really going on was eye-opening.”

Since then she has been active at the local food cupboard and the local mission for homeless people. She also was instrumental in mentoring students from the Wind River Reservation and bringing four of them to the most recent Teton County Model UN conference.
“Those kids bring a really special opinion and ideas to the table,” she said. “Model UN, like the classroom, is best when it is diverse.”

Jackson Hole High School graduate Sarah Ross said Model UN came into her life at a time when she was most interested in being popular. “To be popular was to be disinterested,” she said. “So I reluctantly did model UN.” Participation in model UN is required for AP history students at the high school.

But the Colorado College political science major said once she began doing research and digging into topics, she grew passionate about international relations.

“It really helped my poise in public speaking and writing abilities,” Ross said. She recently was selected to be editor of The Cipher, her college’s monthly magazine.

Ross agrees with Rauch that sometimes world issues are invisible in our seemingly privileged community. But in getting together to debate things like renewable energy sources, students have been able to effect changes like solar panels on a football field, a project created by Students for Sustainability.

“We try to help the kids understand how interconnected the world is,” Rauch said. “We also work with the Wind River Reservation and other local groups. We have human rights issues in our backyard.”

Negotiator Gershon Baskin
It must be hard to negotiate over Skype with pixilated images blurring the computer screen, frozen frames and halted speech. But Gershon Baskin, author of The Negotiator, comes across with an imposing image and a confident voice. He said he uses Skype a lot.
Baskin, co-chairman of Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, will be in Jackson Thursday for a presentation at Dancers’ Workshop. He will sign copies of his book which chronicles the release of Israeli captive Gilad Schalit in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, and answer questions about the Isreali-Palestinian peace process.

The free event, sponsored by Jackson Hole Jewish Community Center, marks the beginning of a week of diplomatic talks. On Monday, Noah Novogrodsky, an International human rights lawyer and professor at the University of Wyoming, will make the case for intervention in Syria.

Novogrodsky will be joined on Tuesday by United Nations Ambassador Marc Wall for a keynote address to 250 high school kids at a three-day Teton County Model UN conference at Jackson Hole High School. All events are free and open to the public.

In a recent column in the Jerusalem Post, Baskin advocates for a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine allowing open access to Jerusalem and all of the holy sites. “Israel and Palestine are only doing a favor to themselves by agreeing to negotiate,” he wrote.
“We all know what the deal is,” Baskin said during an interview with Planet JH Weekly. “We need a brave and courageous leader to negotiate it. I hope [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu surprises us by making a deal with the Palestinian Liberation Organization that will deliver us a peace agreement by the end of the year.”

Baskin, who has back channels to the leaders of both governments on his speed dial, knows firsthand what it takes to negotiate a deal between them after his role in the release of Schalit.

“The beauty of a secret back channel is its deniability of officials,” he said. “The interlocutor on my side was a Mossad officer. Mossad is the national intelligence agency in Israel whose director reports to Netanyahu.

Schalit, an Israeli Defense Forces corporal, was captured in 2006 at Kerem Shalom crossing in Israel and held by Hamas as a hostage at an unknown location in the Gaza Strip for five years. He was 19 when he was seized.

The Palestinian prisoners released in exchange for Schalit were allegedly responsible for 569 deaths. Baskin later learned he had a strange connection to one of them. He had rented an office in East Jerusalem where one of the prisoners allegedly murdered a Jewish lady. The names of the prisoners and their crimes were discussed in detail as the terms of the exchange for Schalit progressed.

“The trick of the deal is to mitigate risks,” he said. “There were great efforts taken to reduce damages as much as possible.”

The most dangerous people on the Palestinian list were removed. Twenty-five prisoners were deported and half were sent to Gaza. Prisoners were put under strict probation regimes, some of which required daily visits with a probation officer. Baskin was not involved in selecting individual prisoners.

“When it got down to the nitty-gritty it was a senior Egyptian intelligence officer in one room and the Israelis in another,” he said.

More frustrating to Baskin than the concept of releasing 1,027 Palestinians for one Jewish man was the fact that the two sides agreed to this deal right after Schalit’s abduction, yet took five years to execute it. While the mathematics of the exchange are astounding to many people, the concept that Israeli soldiers are protected like sons keeps Baskin faithful to his homeland, where he moved from Long Island.

“It’s the kind of society that has a people’s army and the public knows that no one will be left behind. That’s what makes Israel unique,” Baskin said.

Not so in the United States where he is working to help secure the release of Alan Gross, a Jewish man from Baltimore serving 15 years in a Cuban prison for trying to connect the Jewish Community to the Internet. He was working for USAID at the time of his arrest.
“Israel released 1,000 and the U.S. won’t release anything for someone who was working for them,” Baskin said.

His destiny to free Jewish prisoners was sealed after the first cousin of his wife was abducted and murdered. “I sort of made a promise that if ever again there was a situation where someone needed help, I would help,” Baskin said.

During 35 years of working toward peace in the Middle East, Baskin has served as an advisor to Yitzak Rabin and awarded numerous peace prizes, including the Turkish Foreign Policy Institute Peace Price, the Histadrut Prize and a Tribute of Honor and Courage from the World Movement for Democracy.

When asked if he felt empathy for any of the half-dozen prisoners he has met, Baskin was stern.

“They are not my people so I have no compassion for them,” he said before he cut off the Skype call abruptly to get to another appointment. It was clear he is a man of action.

Gershon Baskin speaks 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 14, at Dancers’ Workshop. He will also sign copies of his book, The Negotiator, and answer questions about the peace process. This free event marks the beginning of a week of diplomatic talks.

Professor Noah Novogrodsky

Professor Noah Novogrodsky
Noah Novogrodsky joined University of Wyoming Law School as an associate professor in 2009. He teaches international human rights, immigration law and civil procedure. Prior to that he amassed a long resume, including being a Robert L. Bernstein Fellow in International Human Rights, a founding director of the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, and a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center and the University of Connecticut School of Law. His scholarship is focused on the global HIV/AIDS pandemic and international criminal justice.

With a background like this, Novogrodsky will undoubtedly be persuasive as he makes an argument to intervene in Syria. In a telephone interview he said he wants Model UN students to think about the use of diplomacy, but also consider the strong possibility that the United Nations gets blocked.

“The greater danger is another Rwanda,” Novogrodsky said. “When a dictatorship is slaughtering its own people, there is cause for the international community to intervene.”

Novogrodsky said educating girls is a huge takeaway from his humanitarian work in Africa and other developing nations. He continues to seek support from Wyoming donors to fund education at the middle school level for girls, citing a World Bank study that showed marked improvement in Mozambique, where girls were given an opportunity to stay in school an extra two years.
“Violence against girls is an epidemic the world over and it is critical that we help create the next generation of women leaders in the developing world,” he said. “By taking advantage of education they can delay starting a family and empower civil society. They are more likely to learn English and participate in the global economy.”

Noah Novogrodsky will make a case for U.S. intervention in Syria, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Monday, Nov. 18, at the JH Community School. He will also give a keynote address to 250 high school students during a three-­day Teton County Model UN conference at Jackson Hole High School. All of these events are free and open to the public.

Former Ambassador Marc Wall

Former Ambassador Marc Wall
Former United States Ambassador to Chad, Marc Wall is the new senior visiting scholar in global studies at the University of Wyoming. Wall coordinated reconstruction programs in Iraq; managed trade initiatives with Japan, China and Taiwan and served in posts in Zimbabwe and Côte d’Ivoire. He directed the economic policy staff in the State Department’s Africa Bureau and was involved in negotiations that led to China’s and Taiwan’s accessions to the World Trade Organization (WTO). He is the foreign policy advisor to the U.S. Pacific Command.

“There are three really interesting realtime diplomatic exercises playing out in Syria, Iran and Israel-Palestine,” Wall said. “I’d like to do what I can to shed light on the topics of interest to the students.”
“A lot of what you accomplish as a diplomat is sort of personal,” he said. “Rarely do you kind of find the solution and all is happy after that. It is a process. You just do what you can to make changes for the better. It’s not like repairing a machine, it’s more like maintaining a garden, constantly pulling weeds up and preparing for next season.”

In his class at University of Wyoming on diplomacy and international security, Wall is discussing challenges a rising China poses to the US.

Former Ambassador Marc Wall will participate in a student roundtable discussion, 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 14, at the Jackson Hole High School library.

About Julie Fustanio Kling

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