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Edition 7 Volume 2 - March 30, 2011

"Establish normal relations with Israel"
Only then  - Faiza al-Araji
Let's recall, what was the Israeli feedback after this initiative?

The API prize: full normalization
or just normal relations
 - Koby Huberman
There has to be a new way to reframe the "normal relations" concept.

Arabs yearn to move on  - Hussein Ibish
For almost a decade now, Israel has faced a united Arab world willing for peace.

The illusion of normalization  - Dan Schueftan
What Israel wants is for the Arabs to leave it alone, not love it.

Only then
 Faiza al-Araji

Reading through the text of the Arab Peace Initiative on resolving the Arab-Israel conflict and the steps that have been proposed to be a roadmap for this initiative, I can say that it is very logical and acceptable to a wide range of Arab peoples. It sets fair conditions for resolving the problems that have been suspended since 1967, such as the Palestinian refugee right of return, giving back occupied lands to Syria and Lebanon, stopping Israeli violations of human rights against Palestinian citizens and giving them the right to establish their own independent state with the eastern part of Jerusalem as its capital.

Then I arrived at the part where it calls for the "establishment of normal relations with Israel".

Let's recall, what was the Israeli feedback after this initiative?

Did Israeli decision-makers change their way of thinking? In 2006, we saw the war on south Lebanon, and in 2008 the war on Gaza. And Israel is still in the process of building new settlements, regardless of all the calls from Arab or western countries.

What indicator do we have that Israel has accepted the initiative and started steps on the ground towards positive actions and a new trend for fresh relations with its neighbors?

Some Arab countries such as Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Emirates, Morocco, Tunisia and so on have already established various types of relations with Israel.

Some states have Israeli embassies with heavy security guards around them. Other Arab decision-makers have entered into unannounced agreements with Israel (such as economic agreements to market Israeli products in Arab local markets).

These actions are wrong. They are individual initiatives that go against the will of the Arab peoples, who are seeking a just and comprehensive peace that will achieve stable relations in the whole Middle East, including Arab countries, Turkey and Iran.

In our countries, we still retain the impression that Israel is an aggressive member of the Middle East. It has no positive or normal or healthy relations with any country in the region, whether Arab states, Turkey or Iran. We cannot say that all are evil, and Israel is the only innocent. I believe that if the Israeli people and leaders want a normal relationship with their neighbors, they should re-evaluate their discourse and actions to recognize where the defects lie. They should try new approaches in dealing with their neighbors in order to create healthy and sustainable relations and attain a secure, stable life for all.

A stable life with healthy relations means having normal economic relations and open borders, such as we have now with Turkey. There is a strong relationship between Arab countries and Turkey in commerce, economic relations, politics, and cultural exchange.

Iran is a little more complicated. We, as Arab peoples, have no problems with Iranians. We respect their rich culture and history, but unfortunately, western phobia from the Islamic revolution in Iran has created pressure on Arab leaders to deal with Iran as an enemy, and consider it a threat to the stability of the region (as in the stupid war between Saddam Hussein and Iran).

I have my own personal account to articulate my point. Three years ago, I went to Cyprus to attend a conference about interfaith dialogue between different religions. I was embarrassed, however, when a lady from Israel came to shake my hand and talk about her small women's organization, and the programs they are implementing to empower poor women in their communities. I really respected her organization and the great efforts they are taking to reduce poverty and improve the lives of vulnerable women. At the same time, I felt that I could not establish a normal relationship with this lady. There is a legacy of bloodshed and oppression between her country and my brothers and sisters in Palestine; how can I ignore their suffering and sacrifices?

When Israel is ready to change its aggressive actions and start new policies and actions towards the Palestinian people, I feel that we can all build normal relationships with Israel and its people. We can visit each other, we can respect each other's culture and we can learn from each other. In that context, there will be no more misunderstanding and no more prejudice.

Until then, I believe that we cannot speak about normal relations with Israel. -Published 30/3/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Faiza al-Araji is a civil engineer who blogs at afamilyinbaghdad.blogspot.com.

The API prize: full normalization
or just normal relations

 Koby Huberman

In his op-ed of February 17, 2002, Thomas Friedman presented the breakthrough offered by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah--the formula that became the cornerstone of the Arab Peace Initiative: "Full withdrawal from all the occupied territories, in accord with UN resolutions, including Jerusalem, for full normalization of relations." The equation was mathematically crafted: the "fullness" of withdrawal from all territories is mirrored by the "fullness" of normalization by all Arab countries.

The shift from the traditional "normal relations" phrasing was not just a linguistic breakthrough. "Full normalization" suggested a higher degree of future cooperation between Arab and Israeli governments and maybe even between the peoples. The tone definitely suggested a better horizon compared to the conventional "cold peace" associated with the "normal relations" clauses that Israel has in its peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan.

It was a logical upgrade: if Israelis have become used to cold "normal relations" with two Arab states while (and because) the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not over, then once we have reached the "end of conflict" state, we should expect more. Unfortunately, a few weeks later, the revised text of the API (due to pressure from Syria and Lebanon) had no "full normalization" in it, and reverted to conditional "normal relations" to be established "in the context of this comprehensive peace".

Yet linguistic shifts are the least of Israeli concerns. Israelis have woken up from the days of romantic and utopian expectations. They are much more interested in the security commitment offered by Syria and the Arab states (referred to in section 3-I of the API), and are by far less worried about missing "hummus in Damascus" (as hinted by Section 3-II).

But there are more questions in Israel. Those who support progress towards peace, even API-style, find it difficult to explain to "Israskeptics" why there is still no sign of "normalization" from the Arab states as an incentive to make concessions while negotiating. The position often heard from the Arab side ("normalization comes after peace, not before") is thus automatically interpreted by Israelis as a sign of "no partner". This is not just a matter of bargaining for some preliminary signs of "flexibility". It is because Israelis' collective experience is just the opposite. In the two cases where peace agreements were signed, signs of normalization did indeed come before peace.

The other questions about "normal relations" are about timing, sequence and scenarios. The API does not offer a clear mechanism to operationalize "normal relations".

To illustrate the point: suppose Israel and the Palestinian Authority sign a permanent status agreement before Israel even starts negotiations with Syria or Lebanon. Furthermore, assume this Israeli-Palestinian agreement is along the principles of the API and comprises typical clauses on "state of peace", good neighborly relations, etc., along the lines of the United Nations charter. What happens then? Are Israelis and Palestinians expected to form "normal relations" or do the Palestinians need to wait until Israel and Syria sign as well? It is not clear in the API whether at that stage Arab states like Morocco, Qatar or Oman are allowed to establish diplomatic relationships with Israel or not. And even when the agreement is fully implemented, we have reached the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and every Muslim can visit Palestine and pray in al-Aqsa, will Arab countries have to hold back until an agreement is signed with Syria and Lebanon?

Yet if Syria and Israel sign first, the above scenario probably changes. Syrians are not going to allow any type of normal relations as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not resolved (imagine the reaction in their refugee camps). Nor will other Arab states agree to normalization then: the Israeli-Syrian conflict is seen as a bilateral border and territorial dispute rather than a historic conflict between Israel and the Arab world.

There has to be a new way to reframe the "normal relations" concept. Here is a proposed scheme for thinking about it.

The basic logic in the API is that the idea of normal relations (let alone "full normalization") becomes tangible only when the Israel-Arab conflict is over. Without compromising this principle, let's portray another concept--"the road towards normal relations"--as follows: Let's assume that Israel publicly declares that it accepts the API as the basis for regional peace negotiations, and declares that it is willing to enter into serious negotiations on all tracks. Isn't it then reasonable to expect mutual and gradual steps to "oil the wheels" of the negotiation effort? For example, quiet coordination behind the scenes on medical, water and energy issues. Or, as the recent blessed Palestinian assistance to Israeli firefighters demonstrated last December, natural disasters can unite us in a joint effort to address "abnormal situations". Can we agree that this be the rule?

Finally, one prominent Saudi leader has presented a pretty wide perspective of how far normal relations may go: beyond the economic and diplomatic domains, towards scientific research and education. Perhaps the way forward is to focus on science and education as the first domains in which we quietly join forces in view of the common threats to the region.

The conclusion is simple. If the API is accepted by Israel as the basis for negotiations, then the march towards "normal relations" can be quietly legitimized. Since such a declaration is a tectonic shift in its own right, let's not be pessimistic about the possible positive results and the potential emergence of small symbolic steps. That's how "normal relations" normally start.-Published 30/3/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Koby Huberman is a businessman and the co-author of the Israeli Peace Initiative that is expected to be launched in the weeks ahead.

Arabs yearn to move on
 Hussein Ibish

Probably the most important clause in the Arab Peace Initiative, first adopted by the Arab League at the Beirut summit in 2002 and reaffirmed on several occasions including in 2007, is its commitment to "establish normal relations with Israel in the context of [a] comprehensive peace." This represented the culmination of decades of evolution of Arab thinking regarding relations with Israel, and the final repudiation of the Khartoum resolution of 1967, which insisted the Arabs would have "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it". In other words, rather than being surrounded by an Arab world that generally, if not unanimously, rejected the idea of accepting Israel as a permanent and legitimate presence in the Middle East, for almost a decade now Israel has been facing a united Arab world that has repeatedly made clear its willingness to make a permanent and normalized peace with the Jewish state.

The importance of this clause is that it affirms that at the end of negotiations with the Palestinians, Israel can expect recognition and acceptance in the region, not just from the Palestinians but from the other Arab states as well. Its endorsement by the Organization of the Islamic Conference suggests an even broader reconciliation with the larger Muslim world as well. In effect, this clause in the initiative presents Israel with a simple choice: it can continue the occupation and the illegal colonization of territories occupied in 1967, or it can agree to end the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state, and acquire the peace and regional acceptance that have supposedly been its primary foreign policy goals since 1948.

For the Palestinians, this clause is an extremely important diplomatic tool in pushing for an end to the occupation, since they can point out to Israelis that the result of successful negotiations will be peace and reconciliation not only with them, but with the Arab world in general. There have been some halfhearted efforts by the PLO to promote the initiative, but limited resources and a marked disinterest on the part of Israelis have attenuated these efforts.

Israeli disinterest in the initiative has been truly extraordinary. It would seem to offer them everything they have said they wanted since the establishment of their state, yet very few leaders or opinion makers have recognized its importance and no Israeli government has ever attempted to test the seriousness of its proposal. Some Israelis are so committed to maintaining the occupation that they are genuinely uninterested in any such compromise. Others suspect it is a diplomatic ruse, but by not testing it in any serious manner this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course, the Arab League could and should do more to promote the API, especially with the Israeli public.

Other Israelis are unenthusiastic because they regard peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan as strategically essential but fundamentally unsatisfactory. Israeli bitterness about the "cold peace" with those two countries fails to comprehend that the enduring coldness is the consequence of the continuation of the occupation in Palestine. Obviously, Arabs and Israelis, given their bitter history, are unlikely to become close allies even if the conflict is permanently and irrevocably ended. However, Israelis need to understand that the "cold" nature of the treaties with Egypt and Jordan stems from popular outrage about the continued occupation in Palestine. If that were resolved, as the API anticipates, the potential for widespread Arab-Israel reconciliation at the cultural and emotional level, which is otherwise impossible, will likely develop over time. Warmth is too much to ask at first, but without occupation, both peace and reconciliation become achievable.

The Palestinian citizens of Israel are likely to play a crucial role in such a reconciliation. The end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would do more than anything imaginable to normalize their status as Israeli citizens, and they are perfectly positioned to become Israel's economic and cultural ambassadors to the Arab world. It could transform them from a beleaguered, discriminated-against minority to a crucially positioned and empowered group that can broker economic and cultural exchanges that are mutually beneficial and form the basis for a broader reconciliation.

It's become quite obvious that while almost all Arabs are still passionate about the plight of the Palestinians and committed to ending the occupation that began in 1967, most Arab states yearn to move past the pointless and exhausting conflict with Israel that began in 1948. All parties stand to gain from the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world, but, as the API makes very clear, that can only happen if the occupation is ended and a Palestinian state is established to live alongside Israel in peace and security.-Published 30/3/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Hussein Ibish is a senior research fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine.

The illusion of normalization
 Dan Schueftan

The Arab Peace Initiative has no chance of implementation if it doesn't undergo substantive change. In its present format, it is a diktat. Israel is required to "sign on the dotted line" of a document dictated by the Arabs and to accept a cleverly formulated commitment to the "right of return" of the descendents of the 1948 refugees into Israeli sovereign territory. It is obvious that a "just solution...to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194", which gives every descendant of a refugee the option of "returning" to Israel, is a non-starter. If Israel accepts the Arab diktat it is assured that the Arab states will "establish normal relations . . . in the context of this comprehensive peace".

Even if a formulation acceptable to Israel is found and in the unlikely event that an all-Arab consensus can be mustered around it, the normalization promise is not very significant. Israel would have little real motivation to offer concessions in areas of importance in order to obtain it. "Normal relations" with the Arab states do not offer much. Syria had "normal relations" with Jordan when it invaded its neighbor in 1970 and Iraq had "normal relations" with Kuwait when it occupied that country with the objective of eliminating it. Even a broader degree of "normalization", which is not offered by the API, is hardly a bargain. To paraphrase the words of the moderate Zionist leader Arthur Ruppin in 1931, what Israel needs in terms of normalization it won't get from the Arabs, and what the Arabs will be prepared to offer in this regard is not needed by Israel.

The vision of normalization was relevant in the 1980s and '90s, when Israel (mistakenly) believed that the party preventing the Arab public from accepting a Jewish nation state alongside Arab nation states as a desired member of the Middle East regional pluralistic mosaic was the Arab regimes, including those that had concluded peace agreements with it. Since that time, the Israeli public has become aware of the depth and disturbing characteristics of hostility toward Israel prevalent in Arab society--the public and its elites, including Arab citizens of Israel. The Israeli public has also become aware of unpleasant characteristics of Arab society that are unrelated to Israel: the fantasies current among the Arab mainstream regarding the negative role played by the United States and other western actors, concocted in a pathetic attempt to avoid responsibility for Arab distress. Israelis are more than ever aware of the deep deficit of Arab society regarding pluralism, even toward its own people, reflected, for example, in the mass flight of generations of Christians and mass slaughter by Muslims of one another in Iraq in recent years and in the Syrian city of Hama in 1982.

The euphoria of peace generated by the Sadat initiative and the Oslo agreements was followed by a rough awakening. Regarding Egypt, it was protracted and cumulative; concerning the Palestinians, it was immediate and traumatic. In the case of Egypt, the issue was disappointed expectations, whereas in the Palestinian case it was a systematic campaign of murder, the second intifada, supported by the mainstream of Palestinian society. By the first decade of the twenty-first century, the Israeli public was turning its back on the demand for normalization.

Following some initial enthusiasm, Israelis have ceased almost entirely to visit Egypt and Jordan. The few who did come had little interest in contemporary Arab society: they went to Egypt to see pharaonic antiquities and to Jordan to see Nabatean Petra. The Israeli media sees no justification for maintaining correspondents in Cairo and Amman. The Palestinians, half an hour's drive away for most Israelis, have never interested more than a handful of "peace activists" who come to complain about Israel's sins and a few journalists who are close to this persuasion. In discussing peace with Syria, no one in Israel has recently mentioned the cliche of yearning to eat humus in the Damascus souk.

The better mainstream Israelis know the Arabs, the less they are interested in them. For most Israelis, the relevant reality, the issues of importance and the examples they strive to emulate are in the developed West and not the Middle East. Even those Israeli Jews who arrived a generation or two ago from Arab countries do not look to their native lands for inspiration. Nor does the Arab world have much to offer Israel in terms of economic opportunity. Israel seeks to export advanced technology products to Silicon Valley rather than low-added-value consumer goods to the Nile Valley. The Arabs can offer primarily cheap labor, but the political and social costs of their employment in Israel are prohibitive. In this regard, normalization is more a threat to Israel than an opportunity.

Many Israelis now realize that visceral Arab hatred for Israel, the incredible accusations leveled against it by the Arab world and the sick images of it portrayed in the Arab media and public debate are by and large not the outcome of a territorial or political conflict. These attitudes are not about to dissolve if and when the main aspects of the conflict are resolved. They reflect a society that has lost its self-confidence in the course of hundreds of years of failed confrontation with the modern world--that is a product of envy and distress rather than a response to Israeli policies or deeds. Far beyond a position that might change with changing circumstances, these complaints and grievances are by now part of the Arab identity.

There is a widespread but mistaken sense in the Arab world that Israel's quest for normalization is so strong that it can be used to extort security and other concessions in return for formal but empty normalization, while giving some Arabs the twisted satisfaction of denying its substance to the Jews.

The Israeli mainstream is indeed prepared to make an historic compromise with the Palestinians and to offer far-reaching concessions in return for stable and lasting agreements with the Arab world. But what it wants in return is for the Arabs to leave Israel alone, not love it. "Normalization", be that what it may, can at most be a desirable by-product. In the unlikely event that all or part of Arab society feels the need to fill this formal diplomatic commitment with positive content--so much the better. But in the more likely event that even Arab political leaders won't keep their commitment and Arab society is unwilling--most Israelis won't be surprised and probably won't mind very much.-Published 30/3/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Dan Schueftan is director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa.

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