Opinion

What Israel's Foreign Minister Means When He Says 'Normalization'

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Ashkenazi speaks during a news conference in Berlin, Germany, August 27, 2020.
Ashkenazi speaks during a news conference in Berlin, Germany, August 27, 2020.Credit: MICHELE TANTUSSI/ REUTERS
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi is a senior statesman in the making and a great retired hope. But the centrist camp, in desperate need of a leader, may restore him yet to the great-hope role. His statements are rare, he doesn’t say anything about anything, either because he has nothing to say or because he’s afraid to say what he does have to say – the first possibility is more likely – and therefore every little utterance of his deserves attention.

Last week Ashkenazi told the German foreign minister that Israel has moved “from annexation to normalization.” In response, Europe glowed with pleasure and announced that it hoped to renew the Association Council, an ongoing high-level dialogue between the European Union and Israel. Europe wants so much to go back to loving its darling, Israel – just release it from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s grip. For good measure, Ashkenazi added a few more baseless clichés that he has uttered with ease for years now: “We left the door open to our neighbors and now it’s up to their decision and their choice.”

How Trump demolished dishonest Netanyahu's non-denial denialCredit: Haaretz Weekly

When an Israeli statesman uses the term normalization, they mean maintaining the status quo, which is the normal situation to most Israelis. Any breach requires immediate normalization, a restoration of the status quo ante. An example? Palestinian children are doomed to live a short distance from the sea, and spend their childhood, and sometimes their entire lives, without ever seeing the beach. That is a normal situation. If breaks are discovered in the border fence and the Palestinians manage to get to the beach in the heat of August, normalcy has been disrupted and it must be forcibly restored.

Another example: Protests are allowed near the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street, but banned in the Palestinian village of Bil’in. That’s normal in a democracy. It’s completely normal to imprison two million people for many years – what could be more normal than that? – and expect them to sit quietly. If they take steps against this insane situation, normalcy must immediately be restored; that is, their submissive return to the cage. Let them sit in Gaza, and rot forever, and create normalization with Israel.

It’s normal for a country to be called a democracy when about half of the people under its direct and indirect rule live under a totalitarian dictatorship. It’s normal that two peoples can live in one country, the natives lacking any rights while the immigrants and their descendants have all the rights. It’s normal that Israel can breach the sovereign air space of any country in the region, to spy and bomb them, but none of them are permitted to fly even one balloon into Israeli territory. It’s normal for the Palestinians to be the only people in the world that belong to no country. It’s normal for a country to rule over territories that no other country recognizes, and yet be the most privileged country in the world, except for the United States, when it comes to enforcing international law. It’s normal for one of the most powerfully armed and wealthiest countries in the world to receive some of the most generous economic assistance in history. It’s normal for one of the hopes of the non-rightist camp to announce that he supports normalization.

When Ashkenazi spoke about normalization, he didn’t mean normalcy. Normalcy means equality between two peoples. Ashkenazi doesn’t dream of that. Normalcy is for a military occupation to last for a very shot period of time. Normalcy is for a country to obey international law, that sort of sensationalist thing. Normal is for a country to be punished for its war crimes.

Ashkenazi doesn’t want all that. The political center that Ashkenazi represents only wants quiet. That’s normalization. Leave him alone already about the occupation. Let the Palestinian laborers build the homes, pave the roads and then return normally to their cages. Let the Israeli army invade their homes by night and arrest them to its heart’s content, and by day freely tyrannize, humiliate and shoot them. That’s normal. All other conduct disrupts normalcy. Ashkenazi wants normalcy, and so Ashkenazi brings hope. Now everything depends on the Palestinians, just let them surrender to this reality. Then we will have normalization with them.

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