Savir's Corner: Normalization

Living in prolonged confrontations, wars, terror, loss, humiliation, rejection does not add to the normality of existence.

Tel Aviv terror attack on bus 370 (photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
Tel Aviv terror attack on bus 370
(photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
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 regions.
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 existence.
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.
Israelis 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.
Wars 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 anti-normalization.
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 relationships.
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.
The legal 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 acceptance.
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.
Thus 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.
In our era – war and conflict are out; diplomacy and peace are in.
Cooperation with our Arab neighbors, particularly the Palestinians, will open international opportunities, diplomatically and economically. Ask the European Union, our main trading partner.
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.
To 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 it.
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 self-interest.
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 Accords.Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.