Encountering Peace: Normalizing anti-normalization

I have asked Palestinian friends who support anti-normalization just how not talking to me will advance the cause of Palestinian statehood. I have yet to hear an answer to that question.

December 19, 2011 22:29
Victory signs flashed in front of Palestinian flag

palestinian flag_311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ali Jarekji)

The Al Quds al Arabi newspaper, published in London, gave voice to senior Fatah member Hatem Abdel Qader Eid from Jerusalem announcing that Fatah has decided to boycott and prevent all meetings between Palestinians and Israelis, official and non-official. Being one of the leading Israeli advocates of such meetings and someone who has organized more than 2,000 of them over the past 24 years, many people have asked my opinion of the move.

First of all, I put little faith in Al-Quds al- Arabi. The paper brings to mind the old joke that the only thing (usually) accurate in the newspaper is the date. Its editor and publisher, Abdel Bari Atwan, is a strange character who is known for taking money from all kinds of bizarre and infamous sources.

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Secondly, Hatem Abdel Qader Eid is without doubt a serious Fatah leader, popular within Fatah, especially in places like the Shuafat refugee camp, his home district. But he is also well known for his opposition to meetings with Israelis, so this is not a new position for him.

I have not yet heard or seen an official decision of Fatah to boycott all official or unofficial meetings with Israelis. That does not mean that such a decision might not be in the offing. It could happen, and if it does, I believe it would be another unfortunate mistake by the Palestinians.

It is important, though, to understand the Palestinian argument against negotiations in order to be able to counter it. Palestinians claim that Israel’s goal is to achieve legitimacy from the Palestinians and from the Arab world. The Palestinians and the Arab world are willing to grant that legitimacy, but only when Israel pays the price: ending the occupation and allowing the creation of a Palestinian state in the territory of the pre-1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital.

Until that time, most Palestinians and most of the Arab world would agree that Israel should be denied legitimacy and normalization. By normalization they mean normal relations that exist between states – cultural relations, scientific cooperation, joint educational programs, etc.

The anti-normalization campaign is part and parcel of the BDS campaign (boycott, divestment and sanctions) – locally and internationally. The BDS website defines the group as “a global movement against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights.”

PALESTINIANS LIKE Hatem Abdel Qader Eid say the Arab League offered to “establish normal relations with Israel” in the context of the comprehensive Arab peace initiative launched at the meeting of the Arab League in March 2002 in Beirut and ratified every year since.

The Arab plan calls for Israel to withdraw to the June 4, 1967 lines as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon, and also for the “achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.”

The plan furthermore says Israel must accept “the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with east Jerusalem as its capital.”

Arab leaders say this initiative is the basis for negotiations between the Arab states concerned (Syria, Lebanon and Palestine) and that once Israel reached full peace agreements with those states, the entire Arab world would recognize Israel, enter into peace agreements and establish normal relations. In other words, full normalization. That offer has been on the table for 10 years but Israel has never formally responded to it.

Many Palestinians, especially in activist civil society organizations, are tired of waiting. They believe they must do something to shock the system, to create an understanding that Palestinians are not willing to continue to live under full Israeli control forever. One of the steps they are taking is to boycott Israel and Israelis, including meetings with Israelis.

For some reason they have the misconception that meeting Israelis in workshops, seminars, conferences and other activities organized by peace organizations – Israeli or international – is a form of punishment or some kind of motivation to get those Israelis to work harder for ending the occupation and making peace.

Unfortunately these ideas are mistaken and misconstrued and are counter-productive. I have asked Palestinian friends who support this form of anti-normalization just how not talking to me will advance the cause of Palestinian statehood, an end to the occupation and peace with Israel. I have yet to find a supporter of anti-normalization who can answer that question.

If I were a Palestinian I would seek to have dialogue with the most extreme right-wing Israelis who were willing to talk to me, as I have sought out dialogue with those extremist Palestinians who have been willing to talk to me. I personally do not ask Palestinians to speak to settlers, but we Israelis in the peace camp do need to speak with settlers in order to work together for answers that will enable the two-state solution to be viable.

Palestinians who wish to speak with settlers know how to find them – they are right outside of their windows. They don’t need me for that.

Anti-normalization campaigns are bogus and self-defeating and if Fatah leaders like Hatem Abdel Qader Eid support them, then I expect and hope to hear louder voices from within Fatah who demonstrate by actions that they will continue to search for real peace with Israelis who are equally committed to end the tragedy of our conflict which has gone of for much too long.

The writer is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and a radio host on All for Peace Radio.

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