The Palestinian leadership’s strategy of “denormalization of relations” with Israel is one of the central, if lesser understood, components of the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. Denormalization may be an unfamiliar term to Western observers of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Conceptually, it is modeled after the international anti-normalization campaign that brought about the collapse of the former South African apartheid regime in 1994.
The Palestinian leadership in Ramallah and their global BDS advocates co-opted South Africa’s apartheid history by casting Israel as the world’s new apartheid regime that, as in the South African case, must be made to suffer global isolation and denormalized relations with the Palestinian Authority leadership, the Palestinian public, and the international community. The incomparability of the two situations is overwhelming.1 Many forget that in the 1990s the Palestine Liberation Organization and the democratic state of Israel signed the internationally sanctioned Oslo Accords, which acknowledged mutual recognition, included reconciliation, and the normalization of relations between the sides.
Despite internationally witnessed peace agreements between the sides, the PA leadership has adopted apartheid accusations, denormalization, and BDS as political weapons. Jerusalem Fatah Leader Ahmad al-Ghoul claimed that normalization “equates the victim and the executioner.” He added, “It shows the world a picture of Palestinians and Israelis living in peace and love.”2 Jibril Rajoub, Palestinian minister of sport, further clarified the PA’s denormalization policy in 2014, declaring, “Any activity of normalization in sports with the Zionist enemy is a crime against humanity.”3
Herein lies the deception of BDS and denormalization. While the PA leadership has positioned BDS and its denormalization corollary as a grassroots campaign to pressure Israel to concede to Palestinian political demands, this campaign does not represent the attitudes or interests of the average Palestinian. In fact, some 150,000 Palestinians who are employed either in the Palestinian-Israeli West Bank industrial zones or in Israel are generally unaware of and uninterested in the international BDS and denormalization campaign.
The articles in this collection reveal the demand among a growing number of Palestinians for engagement and opportunity together with their Israeli neighbors. Many Palestinians and virtually all Israelis prefer cooperation over denormalization, whether in commerce and trade, high tech, health care, or in sports, academia, and cultural activities.4 Palestinian leaders of towns and villages in Area C of the West Bank have told this author that they seek cooperation and good-neighborly relations with Jewish residents of Jerusalem or of cities and towns in Area C. This desire for mutual cooperation also pertains to Israeli utilities and infrastructure, electricity, water, and sewage systems.
This policy book gives voice to Palestinians who call for reconciliation with Israelis even in the absence of a final political agreement between the Palestinian and Israeli governments.
The shared perspectives in this anthology have not been reflected in the declarations and actions of the Palestinian leadership or of political and “human rights” nongovernmental organizations that have trumpeted the international BDS and apartheid-denormalization discourses.
In this book, journalist and Palestinian affairs expert Khaled Abu Toameh describes the Palestinian leadership’s policy of denormalization and BDS, which does not represent the concerns of the Palestinian public, and instead has penalized, intimidated, and harassed Palestinian residents of the PA who seek engagement and cooperation with Israel and Israeli citizens. Abu Toameh also reveals the PA’s unsuccessful attempts to promote economic initiatives that have caused mistrust and suspicion of the PA leadership among the Palestinian public.
Some of Toameh’s findings are shared by Dr. Danny Tirza who has been deeply involved in the development of the West Bank industrial zones. In his article, Tirza assesses that continued denormalization and boycotts against Jewish settlements and neighboring industrial zones employing Israelis and Palestinians will drive company and factory owners to relocate to areas within Israel. This will likely result in mass unemployment of Palestinians currently earning monthly salaries that are 350 percent higher (excluding benefits) than what they could earn in the PA-controlled areas. Tirza, a former strategic planning official in the IDF’s Central Command, demonstrates why shared Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli industrial zones in the West Bank are critical to growing the Palestinian economy, maintaining employment, and encouraging entrepreneurship.
Professor Ali Qleibo paints a far more optimistic picture of growing economic prosperity among east Jerusalem’s 300,000 Arab residents. However, he provides a challenging assessment of the desire of Jerusalem’s Arab residents for a defined and finalized political status after remaining in political limbo since the 1967 war.
Daniel Birnbaum, CEO of SodaStream, presents the challenges of establishing SodaStream as an anchor of economic stability, prosperity, peace, and normalization between Palestinian and Israeli employees.
One of SodaStream’s best managers, Nabil Basherat, a Palestinian Muslim, reveals the importance of a positive workplace culture that fosters stability and reflects equality at SodaStream, which, he maintains, could be a model for companies across the West Bank and a harbinger of growth and prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis.
In addition to SodaStream’s creation of a Palestinian-Israeli work culture, Rami Levy, founder and CEO of Rami Levy supermarkets and marketing, offers a manager’s perspective on facing the threat of terror and BDS assaults on Rami Levy stores across the West Bank. Similar to Birnbaum, Levy has provided a model of good-neighborly relations, equality, and opportunity for employees of all backgrounds. Levy also considers the challenges of expanding Rami Levy markets in PA-controlled territory, which raises a host of security issues.
Nadia Aloush, a longtime employee at Rami Levy and a contributor to this volume, provides a perspective as a Palestinian Muslim woman working for an Israeli company, an experience that she compares to her former employment in a Palestinian Authority ministry.
Palestinian affairs expert Pinhas Inbari paints a troubling picture of the EU’s controversial policy of labeling Israeli products that are produced in the Jewish settlements or the West Bank industrial zones. Inbari assesses that EU-PA cooperation and mutual support on labeling Israeli products encourages BDS and extreme denormalization activism.
This policy threatens Palestinian economic viability and induces widespread Palestinian desperation, which threatens the rule of the PA.
Finally, Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi, a former tenured professor at Al-Quds University, provides insight into the principle of wasatia – Islamic moderation – and discusses why he opposes denormalization and rejects the Israel-apartheid accusation. Dajani explains how he defied death threats by Palestinian extremists to lead a group of Palestinian students on a field trip to the Auschwitz death camp in former Nazi-occupied Poland, for which he lost his employment at Al-Quds University. Dajani continues to advocate for moderation and reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis even in the absence of a political agreement between the sides.
Israeli-Palestinian economic cooperation and the building of interpersonal relationships and understanding between the sides are mischaracterized by the Palestinian leadership, and by BDS and denormalization activists, as reflecting a “master-slave” relationship, thereby reinforcing Palestinian claims of “deepening” the occupation.
However, the Palestinian and Israeli contributors to this book provide shared assessments that suggest a sharply different reality on the ground. They also offer a vision for both peoples based on principles of equality, mutual respect, and goodwill. Both Palestinian and Israeli authors have illustrated how companies like SodaStream and Rami Levy have established models for Israeli-Palestinian cooperation that can be applied to governmental and private enterprises alike.
The BDS and denormalization movements have inundated the international Palestinian- Israeli discourse with misconceptions and distortions that negatively affect both peoples.
This volume demonstrates that Israeli-Palestinian economic cooperation can overcome the propaganda of BDS and Palestinian denormalization. Economic reconciliation, cooperation, and as Professor Dajani elucidates, wasatia – the middle way – are keys to economic, political, and social harmony between Palestinians and Israelis.
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2 http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Success-and-pitfalls-of-Palestinian-antinormalization- 404641
3 https://www.timesofisrael.com/pa-official-calls-soccer-match-with-israel-crimeagainst- humanity
4 http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/23/middleeast/palestinian-film-festival-bds/ index.html