There is much talk in the Palestinian Authority objecting to normalization with
Israel and Israelis. There is not much enthusiasm among Israelis to conduct
normal relations with the Arab world. There is much fuss about normalization in
the most volatile and abnormal of countries and
Israeli-Palestinian relations definitely are not normal: the
Palestinians to a large degree reject our legitimacy as a nation state; we run
their lives and dominate their destinies. When occupiers and rejectionists meet,
nothing “normal” can come out of it.
Living in prolonged confrontations,
wars, terror, loss, humiliation, rejection does not add to the normality of
Palestinians have become accustomed to being dominated by
others, they fear loneliness and helplessness, they perceive themselves as
perpetual victims undergoing constant humiliation and interference with their
dignity and daily lives. They believe that the world has a duty to rectify this,
and rely on international powers to provide them with a better future. They are
schizophrenic in their relations to their Arab brethren, relying on their
assistance but condescending to their policies and way of life.
are convinced that they hold the monopoly of victimization, from one generation
to another. This complex is matched with a superiority complex of being a light
unto the nations. We suffer from a degree of paranoia, as in the eyes of most of
us, persecution of Jews is an ongoing preoccupation of the world.
and loss have made us post-traumatic, always fearing, despite our renewed
strength, that the worst is yet to come.
Can anybody in his or her right
mind believe that the relations between these two nations can be normal? There
is a confusion regarding the term “normalization.” As relations between
individuals cannot be described as “normal,” the same is true for relations
between countries. Relations between them can be of hostility and conflict, or
of cooperation and mutual understanding.
Each relationship takes into
account the characteristics and interests of each party. Between Israel and
Palestine, there is nothing normal and no relations to be normalized, as those
never existed. The challenge is to move from conflict to cooperation, while
promoting and safeguarding the interests of both sides.
The talk about
anti-normalization in Palestine and in the Arab world is wrong and misplaced.
The same is true for Israel’s view of normalization with the Arabs. The
Palestinians hear in government, opposition and society strong antinormalization
voices that indeed are not constructive.
It is understandable that in the
current conditions of occupation, the Palestinians are not eager to engage in
dialogue and cooperation with Israelis. They would prefer to do it, one hopes,
in conditions of equality. Yet this is a selfdefeating proposition for many
reasons – the Palestinians want an independent state, and it can only come about
in negotiations with Israel and by convincing Israelis that a Palestinian state
is in their interest. Rejecting contact with Israel and Israelis will only
defeat this purpose.
Furthermore, in the propagandized antinormalization,
there is an inherent rejection of Israel’s legitimacy, which is poisonous to the
Palestinian mindset. Israel is not only a fact of life, but a future neighbor.
If this anti-normalization (tatbia in Arabic) policy turns into an ideology, the
Palestinians will be the first to lose.
Furthermore, this policy and
attitude are not facing an Israel where people stand in line to normalize,
dialogue and cooperate with Palestinians. They can only damage the relationships
with those who want to cooperate with an independent Palestine. The Palestinian
antinormalization movement works against the very interest of a future
Palestine. In the long term, Palestinians have much to gain from economic
cooperation with Israel and much to lose from
Israelis and Palestinians are not the first to
attempt to move from conflict to reconciliation, and all experience shows that
this must be done through dialogue and cooperation – peace, by definition, you
make with enemies.
As for Israel, our government claims to seek
normalization with Arab countries and our people care little about normalizing
relationship with Arab people. The governments, past and present, see in
normalization an Arab give in return for territories, such as with the peace
treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and not a real investment in cooperative
In negotiations we tend to ask for the fullest degree of
normalization; nothing short of Zubin Mehta conducting our Israel Philharmonic
Orchestra in the Damascus Opera House will satisfy us.
agreements with Egypt and Jordan, while rich in words, were poor in actions.
Real normalization is about both sides investing in cooperative economic
ventures. Yet the underlying sense in Jerusalem is that there is nothing
concrete to be gained from the Arab world, except for a psychological
The Arab states may cooperate with us out of self-interest,
not because of an irresistible urge to fraternize with us.
When it comes
to our society, most Israelis could not care less about normalized relationship
with the Arabs, not to speak of our next-door neighbor. To most Tel Avivians,
Ramallah is further away than the moon and their interest is more in the sushi
bars of Manhattan than to have a cup of coffee in a Ramallah café.
the anti-normalization in Israel is also misplaced and self-defeating. Our
well-being, security and even identity are actually most dependent on the
quality of peace and relationship with the Palestinians.
Our place in the
family of nations depends very much on our regional relationships.
era – war and conflict are out; diplomacy and peace are in.
with our Arab neighbors, particularly the Palestinians, will open international
opportunities, diplomatically and economically. Ask the European Union, our main
Normalization has to be redefined for Arabs and Israelis
alike. It is not about a love story. It is about developing cooperative
relations based on mutual self-interest.
It must happen over time,
initially to facilitate peace and after agreements to sustain it.
facilitate peace, there needs to be dialogue and a degree of economic
cooperation, as well as some cultural exchange. We have to prepare each other to
coexist in peace. Palestinian independence and Israeli security depend on
On a regional level, normalization should be based on diplomatic
relations in conjunction with the Saudi Peace Initiative, economic cooperation
such as tourism and, with time, regional economic institution-building according
to the European model.
Normalization is therefore not a favor to the
other. It is in its cooperative form part of peace making out of
It is not a stepchild of peace; it is peace itself.
Anti-normalization is anti-peace.
The whole Middle Eastern region is
abnormal because of conflict that impedes and harms the development and
well-being of people. Our challenge, therefore, is to promote cooperation within
the process leading up to the twostate solution and thereafter. Maybe than, we
can talk about normalizing... ourselves.
Uri Savir is the president of
the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator of the Oslo
Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.