Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

The self-defeating Palestinian ‘anti-normalisation’ campaign

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One may wonder how Israel and the Palestinians can make progress in the current round of peace talks, when a culture of ‘anti-normalisation' pervades the Palestinian side, having been encouraged for years by Palestinian leaders. Some may suggest that the recent Palestinian leaks from the talks that blame Israel for lack of progress are intended to provide a nod to the anti-normalisation campaign, suggesting that negotiations with Israel are futile.

The ‘anti-normalisation' campaign generally refers to the position that Palestinians should not cooperate with Israel or Israelis politically, culturally or economically. Even normal person-to-person interaction is viewed as deeply suspicious. There are a number of recent examples of this campaign:

  • In August, the Palestinian Authority refused to let Israelis attend the FC Barcelona soccer exhibition in the West Bank town of Dura, despite the fact that Israel had invited 400 to 500 Palestinians to Bloomfield Stadium in Jaffa to watch the exhibition in Israel.  The Palestinian Authority also refused a proposal to field a joint Israeli-Palestinian team to play FC Barcelona.
  •  In July, it was reported that two Israeli Arab businessmen who were planning to open a Fox clothing store in Ramallah had to cancel their plans following protests by 'anti-normalisation' activists and journalists. The stores would have employed around 150 Palestinians, and had previously been approved by the Palestinian Authority.
  • It has been reported that since June, the Palestinian Authority has been openly refusing to hold any meetings or interviews which include Israeli or Jewish journalists. Khaled Abu Toameh wrote in Gatestone Institute, "‘We will approve the meeting on condition there are no Jews.' This is what you are likely to hear these days if you request a meeting with any senior Palestinian Authority official in the West Bank... In yet another recent incident, a Palestinian Authority ministry instructed its guards to ‘prevent Jewish reporters' from attending an event in Ramallah."
  • At a conference in Jordan in May, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced a plan to boost the Palestinian economy by investing US$4 billion in the private sector. Palestinians who welcomed the plan and expressed a desire to discuss joint investments with Israeli counterparts such as businessman Munib al-Masri, faced threats and calls to boycott their companies. A number of Palestinian unions have also supported the campaign. For example, the Palestinian Writer's Union reportedly said, "We reject and condemn normalization in theory and practice." Its chairman, Murad Sudani, threatened to publish a "blacklist" with the names of businessmen, politicians and academics who are caught meeting with Israelis.

A culture of ‘anti-normalisation' has become so dominant, that even an upbeat article in Forbes ‘Peace Through Profits' by Richard Behar that praised and reported Israeli and Palestinian high-tech business cooperation led to a backlash. The reporter has been criticised by Palestinians featured in the report, with some saying they now fear harassment by extremists. The original article by Behar, while cognisant of the anti-normalisation campaign, celebrated the progress being made via Israeli-Palestinian business cooperation:

"Yet for all the mutual suspicion, collaborate they do. Buoyed by training, investment or partnerships from Israelis or Israeli subsidiaries of American companies, more than 300 Palestinian technology firms now employ 4,500 people, FORBES estimates, up from just 23 firms in the six-year period leading up to 2000. More are on the way: There's at least $100 million in venture cash from Israeli or Western sources either looking for deals or recently put to work in Palestinian or Israeli Arab startups (with the latter community, representing one-fifth of the country's citizenry, increasingly agitating to get in on the action). Meanwhile, Chambers and his peers at U.S. technology giants have pushed their Israeli subsidiaries to outsource research and development projects to Palestinian startups or to hire local Arabs.

This is the real backdrop for the renewed peace talks lurching forward under the aegis of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Feckless politicians will invariably look to blame the other side for inaction. The private sector's detente is delivering results right now, with the intention of creating enough interconnected prosperity to make a lasting peace in everyone's economic self-interest."

Following Palestinian criticism and requests for Forbes to remove the article, Behar wrote follow-up article on the reaction and what it says about the perils of anti-normalisation, titled "Why So Many Palestinian High-Tech Entrepreneurs Hate My FORBES Cover Story", he writes:

"Virtually every Israeli who contacted me reacted positively. Many are like Uri Adoni, a partner at Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) - a massive high-technology incubator that is a virtual city within a city - who called it ‘a great example of an article that will support the efforts that are taking place, and hopefully will also change some of the perception of the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.' Similarly, Intel-Israel was pleased that its own pioneering work - like Cisco, on the outsourcing of R&D work to Palestinian companies - was described.

But the vast majority of Palestinians who were featured by FORBES reacted with disappointment, upset, and sometimes fear or fury. Referring to it as a ‘political article,' several requested that the entire piece be removed before they would even discuss their feelings with me. (Sorry, that's not an option.) Some worry that the story will harm their businesses by sparking retaliation from Arab extremists. One says he's already seeing such a backlash. Only three Palestinians named in our reports spoke positively about them."

It is a sad reality when cooperation that promotes peace, prosperity and dialogue between peoples is viewed as something negative that one must dissociated from. It is also clearly causing major damage to Palestinian economic prospects - costing jobs, limiting potentially fruitful cooperation and jeopardising Secretary Kerry's plan to boost the Palestinian economy through a major aid influx.

Yet despite the prevailing current of ‘anti-normalisation' among many Palestinians, some progress is being made, perhaps because sensible leaders recognise that what the anti-normalisation extremists activists are advocating - no contact with Israelis or Israeli-owned business - would be completely devastating to the Palestinian standard of living. For example, on September 16, the Agricultural Ministries of Israel and the Palestinian Authority held a recent meeting in which they agreed to renew joint committees originally formed during the 1990s under the Oslo Accords meant to foster joint projects. The committees were suspended during the Second Intifada. Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir said:

"The residents of Israel and the Palestinian Authority will benefit from a tightening of economic ties, and there is no doubt that agricultural cooperation will help ease the regional tensions by creating an economic benefit for both sides."

There is clearly a battle between ideology and basic realities going on in Palestinian society. Everyone of good will, everyone who genuinely cares about the welfare of Palestinians, should be seeking to make sure that the anti-normalisation craziness is margalinalised and that cooperative efforts gain momentum, and that Palestinians come to recognise these endeavours offer their own people great benefits towards nation building, economic prosperity and may even lay the groundwork for peace.

Sharyn Mittelman

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