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Normalisation rewards Israel’s crimes, feeds intransigence

Jun 23,2020 - Last updated at Jun 23,2020

Normalisation with Israel is a controversial matter, particularly when it happens with Arab countries.

The vast majority of Palestinians consider it a stab in the back. The counterargument is that the Palestinians have recognised Israel, and cooperate with it under the terms of the Oslo Accords.

So why should they blame others for doing less?

Some defend normalisation on the grounds that Israel's existence is a reality that cannot be denied. They say that Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties with Israel and that the Palestinians have regularly rejected Israel's peace offers, and, therefore, they should blame themselves for their suffering. Or, that some Palestinians sold their land to Jews and that the Palestinian issue should not forever impede other states from pursuing their own national interests.

That is all either irrelevant or untrue.

The question of Palestine is an historic injustice where adherence to the primary principles of legality, humanity and moral responsibility override ethnic, religious or national considerations.

Arab states' support, indeed any support, for a just cause, or condemnation of lawlessness and aggression, is an abstract duty of all civilised nations, regardless of who the victims are. It is not a matter of Arabs or Muslims ganging up together against Israel.

The Palestinians are human beings, not angels. And they are not required to be angels in order to achieve their rights. And during a century of struggle to protect their land and even their existence they have faced impossible challenges and international conspiracies: the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the 1947 UN Partition Resolution and world power support for the Zionist movement, to name a few.

Even if some absentee landlords sold some land to Zionists, or even if any Palestinians collaborated with their enemies, that does not abrogate the rights of all the other Palestinians who did not.

For every Palestinian villain there were thousands of patriotic heroes who fought bravely for their land and paid heavily, in blood and treasure, for their cause.

That is true for Palestinians as it is for anyone else.

When Palestinians were claiming back all their country and rejecting Israel's existence, they were condemned as extremists and rejectionists.

But when faced with mounting pressure from every direction, including from Arab brothers, to compromise and settle for just 22 per cent of their homeland, the West Bank and Gaza, they were condemned for surrendering their rights.

All along, the Palestinians had to be either traitors, collaborators, terrorists or foolish wasters of precious opportunities. Their list of choices did not include options such as freedom fighters for a right and a legitimate cause, or malleable diplomats who negotiate reasonable deals and accept rational compromises.

What Oslo offered the Palestinians in 1993 was the very bare minimum: a vague hope of a future state if they recognised Israel immediately and renounced as "terrorism" their right to resist the ongoing occupation. Indeed, they even agreed to become a police force against their own people.

Israel, by contrast, did not recognise any Palestinian national rights. Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's prime minister at the time, only agreed that "Israel has decided to recognise the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and commence negotiations with the PLO within the Middle East peace process".

Rabin's commitment to Yasser Arafat was to talk to the PLO, nothing else.

The validity of this limited recognition, contained in a letter of September 9, 1993, is tightly linked to negotiations, and it would be completely worthless if there were no negotiations.

Compare that to what Arafat wrote to Rabin the same day: "The PLO recognises the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security. The PLO accepts UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. The PLO commits itself to a peaceful resolution of the conflict through negotiations”.

Arafat also wrote that "the PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence". He also pledged to abrogate from the PLO charter any articles "which deny Israel's right to exist".

As is now unarguable, Israel never intended the negotiations, whether in Washington and then later in Oslo, to reach a conclusion.

Israel always insisted on interim agreements that preserved the status quo of occupation while postponing so-called "final status" issues indefinitely.

The Oslo agreement was initially supposed to last five years. Now, 27 years later, there is no sign of any agreement. Israel only ever wanted the "peace process" to buy time to build more settlements while removing international pressure.

And that is what happened. No matter what Israel did, the so-called international community could point to the endless "peace process" as an excuse to avoid ever holding Israel accountable.

As a member of the joint, Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, I attended one of the negotiating sessions with Haider Abdul Shafi, who led the Palestinian delegation following the 1991 Madrid Peace conference.

That was in 1992, before the secret talks in Oslo were known. Abdul Shafi pressed the Israelis to agree on the goal which the parties would reach at the end of the five-year period.

Then he said we would use the time, the five-year period, to agree on arrangements on how to reach that goal. The Israelis never wanted to commit to that. It was evident that the negotiations were for them no more than a tactic to buy time and to extort more concessions from the Palestinian side.

Here we are almost 30 years later: The West Bank is occupied with close to 800,000 settlers living in it. Jerusalem has been annexed and declared the "eternal capital" of Israel.

Gaza has for 13 years been under a brutal blockade and reduced to misery. Israel is about to annex what is left of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley; areas already under Israel’s occupation since 1967.

Normalisation only encourages more Israeli intransigence, criminality and contempt for international law.

To distract attention from its crimes against the Palestinians, Israel has for years floated the idea that Iran, not Israel, is the problem. It has alleged that an expansion of Iranian influence is the main danger to Arabs.

On this basis it has sought an alliance with so-called "moderate Sunni Arab states" to confront Iran. The US has eagerly adopted this framework, especially under the George W. Bush administration, as it also suited US interests in the region.

The enmity towards Iran, often couched in religious sectarian terms, is a convenient umbrella to unite US clients including Israel and some Arab states.

It is also good for business: The Trump administration has been open about selling huge amounts of arms and offering paid protection to Gulf states against the supposed Iranian danger.

And some Gulf states' rapprochement with Israel has been part of the package: They believe that gaining favour with Israel endears them even more to the US.

If that can partly explain the rush to Arab normalisation with Israel, it cannot in any way justify it.

From history we learned about solidarity with peoples' struggles for liberation, freedom, rights and a dignified life.

The Palestinian struggle is no exception. Palestinians did receive enormous solidarity from large numbers of UN member states that recognised the historic injustice done to them, and the failure to enforce the rule of law on the aggressor.

Hypocrisy, double standards and often sheer cowardice are behind the reluctance of many political leaders to take principled and responsible positions regarding the Palestinian cause, not in favour of the Palestinian victims but as their duty to preserve world peace and uphold rights under international law.

Blaming the Palestinians has always been the easier way out than standing up to Israel and its lobby.

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