Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

“Regional Normalisation”… an assessment -1

Posted by worriedlebanese on 15/07/2009

Palestinian-israeli_flagsNormalisation or  االتطبيع  (el-Tatbi’) is certainly one of the most detested words in the Arabic political lexicon. But western diplomacy willfully ignores that and  hasn’t come up with another word to wrap up its propositions. I could delve into semantics and share with you my views on the reasons behind the word’s extremely negative connotations, but that would spawn a whole different article. I’d rather tackle the propositions directly.

Here are the regional normalization steps Washington seems to be seeking (according to Haaretz):

  1. Arab countries in the Gulf would allow Israeli passenger and civilian cargo aircraft to fly over their territory. The move would save long detours on flights to Asia, a popular destination for Israeli travelers.
  2. Israel would be able to open interest sections in other states’ embassies in Arab capitals, such as Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Israel had interest sections in several Arab countries but they were closed after the start in 2000 of a Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
  3. Arab countries would lift bans on the entry of tourists and other visitors whose passports carry Israeli visas or entry stamps. Such a step would facilitate regional travel for tourists and business executives.
  4. Arab states would allow Israeli-registered mobile phones to operate on Arab networks, a move that could foster economic contacts.
  5. Israel and Arab states would hold cultural exchanges. Arab countries would ease restrictions that prevent their officials from meeting with Israeli counterparts at international events.

What’s wrong with the picture?

  • It’s blatantly one sided. Normalisation is presented as serving Israel’s interest only. It ignores Arab interests and the principle of reciprocal treatment. It is used as a ploy to counter Arab refusal of recognising Israel, but doesn’t address Israeli policy of separation (regarding Palestinians and Arabs).
  • It ignores the Palestinian problem and Palestinians altogether (of Israel, the Palestinian Authority & Arab countries). What role do they play in this normalisation?
  • It is presented as a packaged deal, with no benchmarks, no incremental development, no monitoring mechanism.
  • It doesn’t distinguish well between different aspects (economical, touristic, cultural…) and different actors (military, judiciary, police, NGO, individuals, diplomats…), but links them all together.
  • It doesn’t build on existing “full” normalisations (with the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan) or “partial” normalisations such as : the former Israeli interest sections in some Arab countries, or “diplomatic semi-normalisation” and “cultural semi-normalisation” within European sponsored initiatives such as the Anna Lindh Foundation or the Union for the Mediterranean or even military coordination (established by the 1949 armistice agreement).
  • It doesn’t try to learn from past mistakes (and change strategies).

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