Opinion |

Normalization Won't Make Palestinians Disappear

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken with FM's of Israel, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, UAE, Monday.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken with FM's of Israel, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, UAE, Monday.Credit: Jacquelyn Martin /AP
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

If only I had a shekel for every person who explained to me recently that the Israeli problem in the Negev is the loss of governability, that the Russians aren’t advancing on the Ukrainian front as they hoped, that Israel has failed to learn the lesson of the Holocaust regarding refugees, and my current favorite current-events cliché: That today we can say with certainty that Francis Fukuyama was wrong.

It’s what we humans do: cling to clichés and repeat them in order to invent order and logic in the chaos of our lives, until they become axioms.

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One of these shopworn clichés is the earth-shattering insight that various Arab countries today have common interests with Israel that are unrelated to the Palestinian issue (all together now: Iran, cyber, natural gas). This theory, that peace with the Arab world can and should be pursued without regard to the Palestinian issue, was promoted mainly by Benjamin Netanyahu. Almost at any diplomatic briefing as prime minister, he raised his “reversed paradigm” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he would explain as such:

“[The left’s] method went as follows: You have to make dangerous concessions to the Palestinians because you need an agreement with the Palestinians to get peace with the Arabs to get peace with the world. … I go to the world first, and from the world I go to the Muslim Arab world, and from the Muslim Arab world we get to the Palestinians. Only this way – if we’re so strong, they’ll understand they have no choice but to compromise with us.”

The Abraham Accords, and now the Negev Summit, are supposedly the manifestation of this theory, now axiomatic: “A new Middle East” with no precondition of a solution with the Palestinians. Due to despair from the impasse in the Jerusalem-Ramallah arena, they’ve stopped withholding the reward of open-normalization for the end of the occupation, and offered it in return for the shared need to block Iran and promote arms, energy, and technology deals – as well as access to Al-Aqsa.

Even the tragic terror attack in Be'er Sheva that took place in the midst of the diplomatic summit in Sde Boker, an event that in the past could have turned into a diplomatic nightmare, became, due to the unusual ISIS connection, a symbol of Israel and moderate Arab countries’ struggle against a common Islamist enemy.

The problem with this thesis, which indeed reflects the obvious, is that all this doesn’t mean that the Palestinians are disappearing. Even in Netanyahu’s scenario, the objective in the end was supposedly to strive for peace with them, too.

Therefore, the enhanced normalization between Arab countries and Israel doesn't mean we can now ignore the Palestinians, but rather, that the burden of finding a solution now weighs on us more than ever. Why should an Emirati citizen (not that there are many such, or that their opinion counts for much there) care about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more than the Israeli and the Palestinian? The interest in solving it was and remains, first and foremost, ours.

This childish fantasy, that open normalization with the Arab world will make the Palestinians evaporate, was addressed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who reminded us of what most Israelis would rather forget: The Abraham Accords are not “a substitute for progress between the Palestinians and Israelis.”

Most Arab ministers also emphasized the Palestinians in their speeches. It is very easy to describe this as lip service and stick to the axiom, but perhaps it is the Arabs who decided to reverse the paradigm on us? We may reach the Palestinians through the Arab and Muslim world, said Netanyahu, and indeed it was because of the Abraham Accords that his annexation plan was tossed in the trash. Tightening relations with the Arab world can also be an opportunity in the Palestinian arena, but it depends mostly on us and them, not on public opinion in Bahrain.

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