Israel - Normalising the abnormal (II): Problematic questions

Israel - Normalising the abnormal (II): Problematic questions
4 min read
24 Aug, 2016
The boycott of Israel doesn't mean Arabs shouldn't engage in debates to tackle Zionism, argues Dr. Azmi Bishara in the second part of his series on normalisation.
The pro-Palestinian BDS movement has created a global debate on normalisation with Israel [Getty]
Israel has consistently demanded and emphasized normalization, based on the premise that the key issue is its own security and the alleged existential Arab threat to its citizens.

In other words, Israel has concluded, based on its own claims, that normalisationwould be crucial to reassure the Israelis, and that this is the responsibility of the Arabs, that is, to prove that they accept Israel in the region rather than recognize Israel as a provisional tactic resulting from temporary weakness.

Normalisation thus stems from a purely Zionist discourse that is both explicit and overt, and accepting it, like some Palestinian officials have volunteered to do, is to accept revisionist Israeli logic.

Yet although many Arabs have tried, sometimes embarrassingly, to offer "good will initiatives" to assuage the occupiers' concerns regarding the people they occupy, Israeli society has not become more willing to accept basic justice or even more realistic. And whenever a Palestinian appears to be more moderate, Israelis become more divided between those who question their intentions, and those who demand more concessions from the “moderates” when they greet them.

However, when it comes to the Arab states that claim to want to influence Israel and assist the Palestinians, there are other considerations at play, unrelated to the stated goals or any sentimentality about Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem.

The key issues are not in the details. The crucial issue is the cause and the struggle against Israel.

Rather, the motivation for the Arab governments in seeking normalisationhas to do with their fierce competition to please the United States. To them, the shortest path to America's heart is through Israel's approval, even if at the expense of Palestine and the Arabs.

There are many questions among the Arab public as to what constitutes normalization. However, the key issues are not in the details. The crucial issue is the cause and the struggle against occupation and Apartheid policies.

Rejecting normalisationin the Arab world includes rejecting invitations from Israeli institutions such as media outlets.

In truth, the majority of Arab figures that accepted to appear on Israeli outlets not only contributed to normalization, but also expressed a willingness to engage in normalizing relations with Israel without a just political settlement, thus betraying their failure to sympathize with the Palestinian people. And often, to defend themselves, these figures drag their critics into strawman arguments invoking the one-upmanship and empty rhetoric of repressive regimes that exploit Palestine to justify their repression.

This is all true, but it is a different matter altogether. The one-upmanship of the Arab regimes exploiting the Palestine question should not detract from the justice of the Palestinian cause, and is not supposed to decrease the staunch position against Israel by any measure.

Rejecting normalisation and calling for a boycott of Israel does not mean that we should lose our political bearings, and lose sight of our interests that are served well by tackling Zionism

Indeed, being a fierce opponent of the Syrian regime, which often claims to support the Palestinian cause, does not mean abandoning the Palestinian people and leaving the last remaining anti-colonial cause in the world a tool in the hands of such despotic regimes. Nothing can excuse lenience towards or praise of Israel and her occupation.

On the other hand, we must make the distinction between Arabs appearing in Israeli media that do not care much for what Arab intellectuals say as much as they care about their mere appearance; and appearing on Western platforms to counter the Israeli discourse, arguably a Palestinian patriotic duty.

I am not talking about dialogues behind closed doors (another type of normalization); I am arguing that Arab intellectuals should not dodge public political confrontations on Palestine with speakers who represent the other view, whoever they may be.

This is not about cultural events or sports championships that ignore the occupation and presume all nations should have normal ties regardless. It is about engaging in debates and advancing arguments focused on political issues before an audience.

In other words, rejecting normalisationand boycotting Israel does not mean that people who struggle for justice lose their political bearings, and lose sight of their interests that are served well by publically facing the arguments of their adversaries .

In the next part: On boycott inside Palestine

Read the first part of the series: Normalising the abnormal: Terminologies

Azmi Bishara is a Palestinian intellectual, academic and writer. Follow him on Twitter: @AzmiBishara

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.