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memri
August 21, 1998 No.
3

Palestinian Positions toward Israeli Peace Movements and Normalization with Israel

By: Yotam Feldner and Aluma Dankowitz*

In the last few months the Palestinian media has examined the developing ties between Palestinian organizations in the Palestinian Authority and Israeli peace movements. Joint activity has triggered critical reactions from Palestinian politicians and intellectuals, which turned into a general polemic about normalization with Israel. The focal point of the dispute was the question of whether it was appropriate to maintain relations with Israelis regardless of the political process, or whether normalization of relations with Israel should be conditional on the political parameters of the peace process.

Opposition to the Activity of the Peace Movements:

The discussion in the Palestinian media started with a series of articles that strongly criticized Palestinians who have begun to develop ties with the Israeli peace movements. These articles constituted the majority of statements on this issue. Opposition to the dialogue maintained that ties with Israelis based on common values and co-existence between the two peoples should not be pursued. The proper nature of relations with Israelis, they claimed, should be strictly instrumental in advancing Palestinian political goals. "The relations with the Israeli peace movements is futile," said one of the critics, "because decision-making on co-existence and the implementation of the accords [with the Palestinians] is assigned to the Israeli government, not to the Israeli peace movements."[1]

According to this point of view it was inappropriate for Israeli peace movements to focus on mutual informal relations. Allegedly, the peace movements should primarily function as pressure groups on the Israeli government so that it would accept Palestinian demands; only after such pressure proved successful, would it be morally just on the part of the Israeli peace movement to pursue informal ties and co-existence with the Palestinians.[2]

Furthermore, those who oppose normalization believe that contacts with Israeli peace movements cause public-relation damage in the world for the Palestinian goals, since meetings with Israelis constitute "a clear recognition in the legitimacy of the occupier and its means of oppression."[3] These contacts also whitewash the occupation and impede Palestinian aspirations, because mutual relations and normalization create the impression that the problems stemming from the occupation have already been solved.

Therefore, normalization and ideas of co-existence are inappropriate as long as Israel occupies the Palestinian territories and as long as the Palestinian national goals have not been realized. In the words of Palestinian Interior Ministry Under Secretary, Zakariya 'Abd Al-Rahim, "Normalization of relations will follow peace and will not be achieved beforehand."[4]

Other arguments brought by the opposition reflect the image of the Israeli left in the eyes of the Palestinians. The Israeli left is largely seen as an integral part of Zionist occupation. The claim that Israeli leftist peace movements serve the Israeli right-wing government attests to that.[5] It is difficult for some of the Palestinians to distinguish between left and right in Israeli society. They would rather divide the Jewish society in Israel between Zionist majority and an anti-Zionist minority. The Zionist majority is perceived as a monolithic entity whose very essence is occupation and opposition to the Palestinian "just and legitimate demands." Israeli peace activists are also included in this category because "all peace activists serve in the Israeli army;"[6] on the other hand, there is a very small minority of non-Zionist Israelis who support the Palestinian demands. Gaza-based Palestinian human rights activist, Iyad Sarraj expressed this position clearly by saying that the Palestinian society is ready for peaceful co-existence with anti-Zionist Jews. For Zionist Jews, on the other hand, Sarraj allocates other places in the world, in his words: "Allah's land is vast."[7]

According to the opposition, contacts with Israelis could be legitimate only when they are held specifically with those Israeli intellectuals "who support in one way or another our legitimate national rights;" on the other hand, "we must boycott and isolate the group of Israeli intellectuals who form a cultural guise for the occupation and its crimes and conduct propaganda for the Zionist version of the Palestinian issue."[8] Hence, co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians requires an Israeli renunciation of Zionism and its symbols. The demand voiced by the opposition, to hold contacts only with Israelis who recognize all the Palestinian rights, including the Right of Return,[9] should be seen in the same context.

Israeli peace movements are perceived by Palestinians as patronizing, since, "they view themselves as the instructors of Palestinians," trying to distort the Palestinian position so it would correspond to the position of the Israeli left.[10] Some have even claimed that the Israeli peace movements were trying to 'brainwash' Palestinian youth, so they would comply with the [Israeli] solution to the conflict.[11] Clearly, such Palestinian views project their own instrumental approach to normalization on their Israeli interlocutors; they view the Israeli peace process as an instrument of Zionist goals.

Support for the Peace Movements Activity:

Proponents of the joint activity provided apologetic as well as ideological arguments in self-defense. Some proponents claimed that if a peaceful atmosphere were created between the two peoples, then normalization would facilitate the political settlement. Thus, contacts with Israelis are valuable because they create a human mechanism for dialogue. Director General of the Palestinian Ministry of Information, Muhammad Suleiman, who is identified by many Palestinians as the patron of these contacts, has stated, "Sometimes wars break as a result of a preceding cultural atmosphere and sometimes peace could be achieved through the momentum a new cultural atmosphere."[12] Therefore, the relations that are being formed with the Israelis have an ideological value. Co-existence is not just an annex to the settlement. Rather, it could turn out to be the element that will bring about the settlement, because the cultural-social atmosphere will determine whether the region is facing peace or war.

However, Palestinian support for relations with Israelis was primarily based on their potential of advancing a political settlement. Similarly, proponents of normalization also provide instrumental arguments: because no progress is being made through official channels, Palestinian should focus on the informal channels, in order to put pressure on Israeli decision-makers."[13]

Some proponents have gone so far as to claim that relations with Israelis would help Palestinians if Israeli-Palestinian violence erupts again. Hasan Al-Batal, former editor of the PLO organ, Falastin Al-Thawra, presently an Al-Ayyam columnist, is one of those who say that the ties being developed with the Israelis might prove worthwhile "the day the war over the establishment of the Palestinian state breaks.… Then, we will need all [Israeli] voices, demonstrators and articles.... The struggle for peace will also reduce the thickness of the Merkava 2 tank and the imperviousness of the Israeli officer commanding this tank." According to this reasoning, when war comes, Israeli Arabs as well as much of the Israeli media will serve as a fifth column, weakening Israeli military might.[14]

Conclusion:

The controversy over normalization towards Israel in the Palestinian media mainly revolved around tactics, i.e. the question of which approach best serves Palestinian interests. The opponents, who dominated the media, as well as the proponents, resorted to cost and benefit arguments concerning the dialogue with Israelis. In the Palestinian Authority, where dissent can cost an individual his life, It is likely that some arguments used the instrumental approach to protect the authors from such accusations. Nevertheless, a fair share of the Palestinian public perceives the Israeli peace movements as an integral part of the occupation; only after shedding their Zionism, could these movements become a legitimate party for dialogue with the Palestinians.

* Aluma Solnik and Yotam Feldner are Research Associates with MEMRI

Endnotes:

[1] Secretary for the Teacher's Union in Jenin, Samih Msad, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 14, 1998.

[2] For example, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) – Al-Manar, June 29, 1998.

[3] Spokesman for the Islamic Salvation Party, Salah Al-Bardawil, Al-Risala, April 23, 1998.

[4] Fasl Al-Maqal, April 29, 1998.

[5] For example, Member of the PLC, Naser Abu'Aziz, Fasl Al-Maqal, April 29, 1998.

[6] For example, Member of the Palestinian National Institutions Authority, Mu'tasm Qshu', Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, April 11, 1998. Deputy Head of the Palestinian Journalists Union, Tawfiq Abu Khosa adopted a similar approach when describing the Manager of the International Center for Peace, Ofer Bronstein, who organized the the Israeli-Palestinian Journalists Conference in Rhodes as an "ex-Israeli intelligence officer." Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 19, 1998.

[7] "Who is a Jew?" Iyad Sarraj, Al-Quds, November 11, 1997.

[8] Suleiman Abdallah, Al-Masar, Mid-June, 1998.

[9] For example, Sulieman Abdallah, Al-Masar, Mid-June, 1998.

[10] Head of the National and Political Guidance Directorate in the Jenin District, Naif Switat, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 14, 1998.

[11] For example, Deputy Head of the Palestinian Journalists and Authors Association, Tawfiq Abu Khosa, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 14, 1998.

[12] Al-Quds, July 2, 1998.

[13] For example, Director General of the Palestinian Ministry of Information, Muhammad Suleiman, Al-Risala, April 23, 1998.

[14] Al-Ayyam, June 30, 1998.