After opening the sky for Israeli airlines to fly over Saudi Arabia, some people are talking about normalization. Yet, Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, who is leading his country’s reforms and modernization, stressed that normalization with Israel will come only after Israel and the Palestinians reach a peace agreement that creates two states: Israel and Palestine. I think we should make a clear distinction between normalization and peace. The former is an economic issue and depends on the will of governments. The latter is something that the people of Israel must first achieve internally, which therefore depends only on us.
I realize this begs explaining. The relations Israel has with its neighbors depend on their feelings toward us. With Egypt, for example, we have good relations. However, we have had good relations with them for a long time because despite the wars, the last of which was in 1973, the Egyptian people were never really hostile toward us.
The same can be said about the Saudis. We have never had any problems with them. I myself used to send packages by mail to a student of mine in Saudi Arabia, and they always reached their destination without any problem. Moreover, he often came to Israel and went back there, and there were no problems at all. Now that the Saudi government is becoming more moderate on Islamic issues, too, it really leaves no cause for problems with them, so I am confident that relations with the Saudis will be good.
The opposite can be said about Gazans. Even if you encounter people from Gaza on a trip abroad, the hostility is palpable. Therefore, the existence or nonexistence of an agreement is less important. What counts most is the relation of the people toward each other.
Normalization, therefore, is the capitalization on a situation that can yield economic benefits to both sides. It is a political arrangement and nothing more.
Religious extremism, by the way, is also a political decision that stems primarily from power struggles and not from genuine division between Islam and Judaism. As far as religion goes, Judaism and Islam are not contradictory. They are not the same religion, of course, but they are not entirely contradictory.
But as I said, normalization is not peace. Peace, in Hebrew, means wholeness. It is a state where two contradictory sides create a bond between them that engenders a new whole that is sustained and evolves through both sides equally. In the same way that day and night, heat and cold, spring and fall are completely opposite yet complement each other, peace between people can happen only when they are contradictory, yet both commit to building a bond between them that creates something new, which requires both of them for its persistence and development.
In Israel’s current situation, division is rife and deep, but there is no motivation to transcend it in any constructive manner. We are still in the phase of trying to impose our worldviews on the entire country, believing that only our way is correct. We still do not understand that only unity is correct, and division is wrong regardless of one’s opinion.
In such a state of division, no country will make peace with us. There is no nation with whom to make peace; there are only factions and camps that demonize one another in the eyes of the world and intensify its hatred toward Israel. To make peace with our neighbors, we must first make peace with each other within Israel. This is why I wrote above that peace with our neighbors, as opposed to normalization, depends entirely on us.
I do not blame our neighbors for hating us when we hate each other so vehemently and vilify each other in the eyes of the nations. They watch us and follow our example.
When we stop maligning one another and realize that our differences are there precisely so we will unite above them, and not so as to eradicate each other, we will create something new that the world will admire. Then the nations will make true peace with us, to learn from our example of making peace, meaning creating something new and whole above division.
Until we do this, some countries will have good relations with us, and some will not, depending on their political and economic interests. We may call it normalization, but we should not think of it as peace.