Normalization, Really ?

At a recent EU conference, at of all places, Villa Lieberman ( namesake of the leader of an Israeli opposition party, E.S.) in Berlin, Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi,  informed his German counterpart Heiko Maas, apparently unexpectedly, that Israel is moving from a policy of annexation to one of normalization, certainly a promising statement.

After having been under considerable uncertainty with regard to annexation – we didn’t know when it was going to happen, what WB areas exactly would be annexed, what would be the status of the Palestinian population in those areas and who would support annexation and who not – we are now looking at similar uncertainty with regard to normalization. To what exactly does the term apply ? What is being normalized ? Are we talking about continuation of the status-quo, just a bit more normal ? Normalization implies essentially maintaining an existing situation but making it normal, whatever that means. Are we going to keep the occupation but normalize it through legislation that is less than annexation and more like a new Regulation Law that could actually, this time around, pass the hurdle of the Israel Supreme Court after the State of Israel (and the settlers) once again, were overruled by the court last week ? Or are we talking about the end of the occupation, an agreement with the Palestinian Authority and a division of the land based on agreed principles, between two normal sovereign states ?

Despite the fact that this wasn’t expressed publicly, the Foreign Minister in his statement in Germany certainly did not refer to normalization with the Palestinians which in Israel is not a matter for the Foreign Ministry anyway. We can assume that reference was to normalization of relations with additional Arab/Muslim countries beyond those that were established with the United Arab Emirates. But don’t be fooled – relations with the UAE are a business deal – Technology, Know-how, weaponry, Israeli and American, and access in return for diplomatic relations and tourism, not normalization.

FM Ashkenazi talks about normalization as cabinet member of a country that many years ago already abandoned all pretence to normalcy.  A country claiming to be democratic but at the same time keeping  2.5-4.5M (including Gaza) without civil rights under a belligerent occupation for 53 years still knows what’s normal ? A supposed democracy where the elected representatives of 20% of the population cannot be members of a governing coalition because that wouldn’t suit a parliamentary majority of the ruling ethnic group, is normal ? In Israel, every day implementation of democratic norms depends on the coincidental agreement among a selection out of 15 Supreme Court judges and the good will of members of the Knesset not to overrule them. There is no agreed upon constitution that prevents the government or the legal system from changing the rules of the game, at will, whenever.  Do we live in a country that even knows what normal is ?

A country where successive governments appear to have internalized that it is possible to accept that its 70,000 or so citizens living in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip have to contend, for years, with rocket, mortar and incendiary balloon attacks, not to talk about occasional terrorist intruders, has certainly lost all sense of normalcy. Not to talk about the inherent insanity of keeping a city of 2.5 M inhabitants (Gaza) under a blockade for years. And in what universe is it normal to destroy more than 1,000 dwellings of citizens (Beduins) per year for  years running and let tens of thousands of citizens live in unrecognized villages without running water, electricity and public buildings because successive governments haven’t found the time and patience to deal with minor land claims that are clearly solvable?

A country that by a simple Knesset majority overrules the civic equality clause of its constitutive document, the Declaration of Independence, even though the discriminatory implications for the country’s minorities are patently clear, cannot be considered normal. But then again, how normal can a country where an authoritarian Prime Minister indicted in three criminal cases manipulates a deep crisis, based on tribal principles of divide and conquer, disregarding elementary principles of democracy, management and public administration ? What kind of normalization exactly are we looking at here?

And talking about normalization, suddenly, on the background of the many demonstrations that are taking place all over the country against the indicted Prime Minister, people are becoming aware of the fact that the Jerusalem police are far more violent than the police in Tel-Aviv. The reason is clear (other than leadership, which, of course is critical) – The Jerusalem police has been “normalized”, it has absorbed the reality of 53 years of keeping order in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Is it a surprise that the violent methods and technologies used against Palestinians are also applied against Israeli citizens ?

Until we, the public, do not decide for ourselves what is normal,  we cannot move towards real normalization. Not among us, not with the Palestinians, not with the Arab and Muslim world. No existing political party or movement is likely able to help us along the way today. All of them have internalized to this or that extent, the incredible distortions of liberal democracy that we have been subjected to for many years and that have taken root here. Only a new movement and/or political party that will rise  from scratch, calling for change, for determining once and for all the borders of Israel, for a constitution as it was called for in the Declaration of Independence and for a transformation of the country’s debilitating electoral system into a regional one, can do what is takes. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was already up and running…

About the Author
The author served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is a member of the Council for Peace and Security, Vice Chairman of the Israel-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce, Co-Chair of the Federation Movement (www.federation.org.il), member of the council at 1948.co and author of "Identity: The Quest for Israel's Future".
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