Yalla Peace: The abnormality of ‘normalization’

Normalization may not be “normal” in the Middle East or in regard to Palestinians and Israelis relations.

'Tag Meir' anti-'price tag' candle lighting 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of 'Tag Meir')
'Tag Meir' anti-'price tag' candle lighting 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of 'Tag Meir')
There is nothing normal about “normalization.” It sounds like a good word, but to many Arabs, not all of them political extremists, “normalization” is a very bad word. Normalization means to Arabs what anti-Semitism means to Jews. It’s a word with very negative connotations. Yes, it is that bad. But why?
As you might imagine, I have been accused of “normalization” a lot. I talk to Jews. And visit Israel, and Palestine, as if there was nothing wrong. I did stand-up comedy with Israelis (not just Jews) and that angered a lot of extremists who still attack me every chance they get to this day.
I understand their attacks. I recognize they are incapable of achieving anything on behalf of the “Palestine cause” and that in attacking me, they are assuaging their guilt and failure. Israeli critics are the same. They can’t save Israel, either. Both sides are failures, in truth.
They can stop things but they can’t make things happen. They can destroy things but they can’t build anything. That’s one reason why Israelis have never achieved their dream state, and why Palestinians have never established their own state.
Recently, a group of normal Palestinians and Jews decided to come together at a conference to explore the idea of “Confederation.” Basically, the idea is to create two states, each with their own sovereign governments, and at a higher level, a confederation government shared by Israelis and Palestinians. (I wrote about their efforts a few weeks back).
The meetings were to take place at the Ambassador Hotel in east Jerusalem and in Beit Jala but Palestinian activists – extremists, really – protested, made threats and blocked the conferences.
Al Quds University President Sari Nusseibeh, who I admire, was to have been a speaker. He canceled. Palestinian fanatics have never forgiven him for suggesting that Palestinians compromise on the issue of the “Right of Return,” something I also support.
The principles of the unprincipled criticism of “normalization” are simple: Those who oppose “normalization” fear that if Israelis and Palestinians start treating each other with respect, the conflict will disappear without ever achieving a resolution.
BUT THE fanatics don’t want the same conclusion that the moderates (who are attacked for “normalization”) are seeking. Fanatics want the other side destroyed. Israeli fanatics hope that Palestinian aspirations for statehood will one day disappear. Palestinian fanatics hope that Israel will eventually be destroyed and the Jewish state will be replaced by an Islamic state.
The moderates believe compromise can’t work without an attitude adjustment. Compromise can’t be achieved unless the two sides compromising accept each other as equals.
That’s the real power of “normalization.” Because it really works both ways. When Palestinians “normalize” with Israelis, it also means Israelis are “normalizing” with Palestinians.
When people normalize with each other, instead of demonizing each other, compromise becomes easier to achieve. And that’s why the fanatics want to stop normalization. They don’t want compromise. They want conflict because conflict maintains their chances of achieving their real goal, to destroy the other side.
Many Israelis still do not recognize Palestinians as a people and turn to racist hatred to claim they never existed. It’s no different than what Palestinian extremists are doing.
Just because I am willing to treat Israelis like human beings does not mean that I support Israel’s extremist government policies. And it doesn’t mean that I will stop criticizing Israeli policies and actions.
I don’t mind normalizing with Israelis, even though I wish more Israelis would speak out against the growing extremism in Israel.
I oppose the expansion of Israeli settlements. It contributes to the conflict and encourages violence; and violence is happening on both sides with Palestinians firing rockets are Israelis and Israelis firing missiles at Palestinians. Civilians are killed on both sides of the fence, and all of those deaths are an unmitigated tragedy.
Normalization doesn’t change the facts, either. And the facts are clear to anyone who wants to see them. More Palestinians are being killed in this conflict than Israelis, so who is responsible for the violent nature of our relationship?
Normalization does not stop me from criticizing Israeli practices including the immoral policy that severely restricts Palestinian Christians and Muslims from entering Jerusalem. Most of my own relatives are banned from entering the so-called “open city.”
But normalization means that I accept a different way of addressing these grievances. I reject violence of all kinds, by Palestinians and Israelis alike. I reject the calls for one state by Palestinian fanatics and by the Israeli fanatics, too.
Normalization is what makes me believe there are many Israelis who support genuine and fair peace, too. It encourages me to try and convince the rest of Israeli society to take their heads out of the sand and see the real threat that a future of continued conflict holds for us all.
Normalization may not be “normal” in the Middle East or in regard to Palestinians and Israelis relations. But it is the first step towards ending this conflict through compromise and creating a Palestine State while insuring Israel’s continued existence.
Normalization may not be popular, but it is the only answer to the growing fanaticism that is gripping both peoples, Palestinians and Israelis alike.

The writer is an award winning columnist and radio talk show host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com.