What Kind of Normalization?

If Israel holds negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians, it will need to present a more practical, exact characterization of its demands than what it used in the peace agreement with Egypt.

The bait offered to Israel during the Arab peace initiative of 2002 - in exchange for a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines, recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state, and a just solution to the refugee question - is an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict and "normal relations." King Abdullah of Jordan pledges to Israel, in an interview with the Times of London, that it would be welcomed with open arms by the 57 Muslim and Arab countries. He claims more countries recognize North Korea than Israel.

Losing a diplomatic beauty pageant to a sadistic regime like that of North Korea is certainly painful, even though a quick check reveals there are more diplomatic missions in Israel than in North Korea. It is also worth noting that more than one-third of the missions in Pyongyang are those of Arab and Muslim states.

Indeed, Israel must solve the conflict for more important reasons than gaining greater recognition than North Korea. The solution is vital for preserving the Jewish and democratic character of the state. Nonetheless, it would behoove us to examine what we will receive in return. The two precedents set by the peace agreements Israel signed with Egypt and Jordan are not encouraging with respect to "normal relations." Dozens of concessions, memoranda of understanding, and addenda about every aspect of relations have not kept those ties from becoming thin and barren. One must not underestimate the fact that these agreements have warded off the danger of armed conflict between Israel and its two neighbors, and there is great importance to the security dialogue between them. These obligate a continued adherence to the peace agreements. Yet these are not the ties for which we had hoped.

Indeed, relations between the 57 Arab and Muslim countries are neither strong nor multifaceted. Israel forced more than 50 normalization agreements upon Egypt, borne to a large extent out of a naive belief and the hidden assumption that "normal relations" are another guarantee that will prevent an outbreak of hostilities. Egyptian civilian society, including its elites, continued to boycott Israel, not just because a solution has yet to be found to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And it is hard to expect "normal relations" with Jordan - where two-thirds of its population is of Palestinian origin - beyond dialogue between governments, though that too has waned in recent years.

It is not only the governments of Egypt and Jordan and their civil societies that bear guilt for the lack of "normal ties." Israel's various governments have also missed opportunities to forge closer ties, particularly because they have bowed to pressure from various interest groups that do not wish to see competing sea ports, power stations and airports.

If Israel holds negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians, and the Arab initiative is placed on the agenda, Israel will need to present a more practical, exact characterization of its demands as they pertain to "normal relations" than what it used in the peace agreement with Egypt. Regional desalination plants, water and energy pipelines, telecommunication lines, and joint use of infrastructure like airports and seaports in Aqaba and Haifa will sprout a set of more common interests than that which can be offered by the open arms of hundreds of millions of Muslims. When the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan, which is one of the largest Muslim countries, is liable to fall into the hands of extremist elements, the question of whether the Karachi Philharmonic will visit Tel Aviv should not be the one troubling King Abdullah, Barack Obama or Benjamin Netanyahu.

The writer is the head of the Institute for National Security Studies.