The True Meaning of Normalization:
Reflections on the Abraham Accords
(October 2020 Issue of “The Reflector”)
This past month, the Jewish community of Richmond joined with Jewish communities around the globe in celebrating the historic peace agreements signed at the White House between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. We welcomed the full normalization of ties and the establishment of diplomatic relations – as well as the principles of peace and cooperation expressed in the Abraham Accords.
There can certainly be some skepticism around the political motivations for this deal from each of the parties. What cannot be denied however, is that we now know that it is possible for an Arab state to publicly recognize the State of Israel. Despite any past differences and any current disagreements, the UAE and Bahrain acknowledged Israel’s identity as a sovereign state whose borders need to be respected and whose people have a right to life and the pursuit of happiness - just like every other nation on earth. If you don’t think that is big – then I am not sure what History you have been studying from the past 70 years.
The Abraham Accords are actually a remarkable set of principles that outline a recognition of rights and broad cooperation in the region that is simply stunning given the history of enmity from which it came. The challenge now is to use this public recognition as a model to challenge Israel’s delegitimization in the world, and to try with all our might to have the term “normalization” be seen as something positive in the Palestinian community.
Delegitimization and the rejection of normalization are actually born of the same bitter fruit. The premise of the BDS movement for example is not that Israel should allow Palestinians a state or change policy. European delegitimization, BDS demonization, and Palestinian rejectionism all boil down to one argument – that Israel is a European colonizer that has no right to the land. That may not be what every person who protests against Israel believes – but it is at the core of what still prevents the Palestinians from gradually moving toward a normalized relationship with Israel – as the UAE, Bahrain and other Arab states have been doing for years.
Without Arab states promoting this outdated view of Israel, the only source for its continued use in the region is actually the Shia political extremism of Iran that is exported to Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. When Mahmoud Abbas gets up at the UN and spews an hour of anti-Semitic tropes and claims of illegitimacy, who is he speaking for now? Clearly, he is no longer speaking for the Arab world. In many ways, that conflict, the Arab-Israeli conflict, ended in a loud crescendo at the White House on September 15th 2020. So, anyone that continues to chime in on that claim of illegitimacy needs to know they are only amplifying the Shia Iranian worldview. THEIRS is the now the only state sponsored venom that claims Israel should be wiped off the map. THEIRS is the faulty rhetoric that fuels rejectionism and halts cooperation in the Palestinian community. THEIRS is the anti-Semitic hatred that underlies the ill-informed anti-Israel activism in the United States.
“Normalization” has not been achieved between Israelis and Palestinians because cooperation, business partnership, and political compromise is seen as an evil, traitorous act. Meaning that Israel is evil and to cooperate is to “normalize” the legitimacy of their false claim to the land. This is the ideology that the UAE and Bahrain started to shed years ago. The Abraham Accords are the public articulation of their new ideology; one that reflects a distinct change of course, and one brought about through soul searching as well as expediency - a common formula for any real peace. To hope for or expect less of the Palestinian leadership is shortsighted and diplomatic folly.
Normalization MUST be seen as the recipe for any path toward a negotiated agreement. The only way for Israelis and Palestinians to know each other better - and to trust each other more - is to gradually build up layers of connectivity, create regular opportunities for collaboration, and increase every-day personal interactions.
If anything has shown that this process of subtle normalization is a proven path toward peace – it is the Abraham Accords and the bi-lateral agreements that brought these ideals of cooperation and mutual respect to life.
For more information about the work of the JCRC please contact David Cohen, JCRC Director at firstname.lastname@example.org