Part II in the AIC’s discussion of normalization: With a handshake, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat broke the boycott of normalization with Israel. While the rest of the Arab world and the Palestinians would, for the most part, continue to resist normalization, the Israeli left would push for it in the years following the signing of the Oslo Accords, and an industry sprung up based on "people-to-people" programs...
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin shake hands (photo: US Archives, copyright expired)
The peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, which was signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1979, symbolized a partial end to the boycott of normalization with Israel. Needless to say, the Palestinians considered it a knife in their collective back. The Arabs considered it a betrayal and it was loudly rejected throughout the region, including Egypt. When President Sadat was assasinated two years later, he paid for this treason with his life.
The breach was, however, opened, and despite Israel’s subsequent criminal invasion of Lebanon, the peace agreement with Egypt marked a new era in relations between Israel and the Arab world.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) became a leading force in the anti-normalization campaign, stating, with the support of the great majority of the Arab public, that as long as the occupation continues and the refugees cannot fulfill their right to return to their homeland, there can be no normal relations with Israel. The same PLO, however, in its 1988 National Council set the conditions for the eventual recognition of the state of Israel, which ultimately materialized in the Oslo Declaration of Principles (DOP). Though the DOP was a matter of (mutual) recognition, the goal set by Yasser Arafat was s normalized relationship with the state of Israel.
For most of Israel’s so-called "peace camp," Oslo was a historical victory over the Arabs’ anti-normalization strategy. And rightly so: the policy of colonial might combined with the support of the international community successfully forced the PLO to recognize a state that was established on the destruction of the Palestinian homeland, and to accept what they call "an historical compromise" at the expense of part of their legitimate rights. The Zionist left was at the forefront of the efforts to push for the normalization that would provide them with legitimacy… and a lot of funding.
"People to People" programs and initiatives became quite fashionable in the 1990s, and an industry of "dialogues" and fake cooperation flourished, with the Israeli side – better organized and internationally connected - taking the biggest share of the money and setting the agenda.
Within a decade, Palestinian civil society activists understood that while they were sincerely hoping for normalization—i.e. an end to Israel’s colonial occupation—the Israelis were unwilling to compromise. "Normalization with occupation? No thank you!" became Palestinian civil society’s new answer to the pathetic attempts of professional Israeli normalizers who made a good living from the "people to people" industry.
So the professional Israeli normalizers had to reshuffle their activities. Some went into business; others decided to become a kind of self-appointed, pseudo-United Nations, providing advice and tools to "convince" the Palestinians how wrong they were to reject dialogue and normalization with Israel, or at least with Israeli activists. How colonialist: being an occupier and , at the same time, claiming to educate the occupied about how he or she should handle the relationship with the occupier… for his own good, of course.
Recently, Al Quds el Arabi newspaper published a article by Jerusalem Fatah leader, Hatem Abdel Qader in which he stated Fatah’s support for boycotting Israeli-Palestinian meetings. While this is nothing new, the article provoked a critical reaction from Gershon Baskin, one of the normalization industry’s leading professionals (Jerusalem Post website, December 19, 2011). A thorough reading of Baskin’s arguments shed light on the obscene arrogance of Israeli normalizers, though one must admit that Baskn’s is an extreme and almost pathological case.
Pathological because of the inflation of “I”: “I put little faith in Al Quds el Arabi”, “I have not heard or seen an official decision of Fatah to boycott meetings with Israelis”, “I believe it will be another unfortunate mistake by the Palestinians”, “I have asked Palestinian friends who support this form of anti-normalization, how just not talking to me will advance the cause…”, “I have yet to find a supporter of anti-normalization who can answer the question”, “If I were a Palestinian, I would seek…”, “as I have sought out dialogue”, “I personally do not ask Palestinians to speak to settlers…” etc etc.
But let’s leave the pathology aside and address the political issue.
We already knew that Baskin released Gilad Shalit and re-shuffled US politics in the Middle East. We now learn how he intends to change Fatah policy, effectively ending its anti-normalization strategy: by convincing them that speaking with or meeting Israeli peace activists will speed the fulfillment of their political objectives.
If Baskin would listen to “his friend” Hatem Abdel Qader, and not only to himself, he would have had to answer the question “why?” After more than a decade of dialogue and “people to people” festivals, the Israeli peace camp couldn’t deliver its share in the dea. In fact, public opinion shifted to the right, the peace camp almost vanished, and the massacre of Gaza population in 2009-2010 got, for a while, the support of Peace Now and Meretz—big names in the Israeli "peace camp."
So Hatem Abdel Qader would ask Baskin: why divide the Palestinian National Movement and even Fatah itself on the issue of normalization when we get nothing in exchange? During the invasion of Lebanon in 1982-1985 or during the Intifada (1987-1990), a mass peace movement sided with part of the Palestinian demands and supported their struggle. It helped the Palestinian cause and, therefore, deserved to be taken into consideration and to be strengthened by a variety of means, including dialogue sessions which were often humiliating to Palestinians due to the colonialist behavior of their Israeli "partners."
But today? What can Gershon Baskin and other “left-normalizers” deliver to Fatah and other Palestinians to help justify what the Palestinian public considers “normalization with the enemy”? How can they convince Palestinians that this time there will be not yet another betrayal and realignment with Israeli national consensus, as it happen so many times in the past?