Thursday, May 17, 2012

Anti-Normalization and Business in Palestine

A Short Intro on (Anti-)Normalization

When I first arrived to Palestine, I figured I should do everything to get Israelis and Palestinian together -- invite them both to my parties, smuggle some Israelis into Ramallah, and some Palestinians to Tel Aviv, and so on. I was glad to see so many Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives, and I applauded to the United States as a main donor supporting such bilateral people to people projects. With all this optimism in mind, that this is the way peace will be brought to  the middle east, I was taken aback by reaction of Palestinians, who said this is bullshit and they are sick of normalization. How stubborn are those Palestinians, I thought -- in contrast, Israelis seemed so willing for a peace dialogue, but if Palestinians don't want to talk, maybe it's their own fault that they don't get peace.
Only the fact that I kept on hearing about normalization from many smart, reasonable and eloquent Palestinians made me go into a little research about it. Among others, I stumbled across the following websites:

So to summarize, after several decades of Israel occupying Palestine, all peace talks and all normalization approaches have achieved nothing on the ground to end the occupation, or to end legal and institutional discrimination (called "Apartheid" by some), or to end the constant acquisition of Palestinian territory by Israel.

Anti-normalization is a form of non-violent resistance that should remind us that the status quo is not normal, that you can't negotiate over a pizza while one side is eating it up, that talks between a prison guard and a prisoner are not likely to lead to an acceptable solution for the prisoner, especially if the prison guard deems the (international) legal framework not applicable.

Anti-normalization tries to show that Israelis and the western world got too comfortable with the status quo.  The status quo that was designed in Oslo as a temporary fix on the way to Palestinian statehood, clearly doesn't lead to statehood. Still the two-state rhetoric is perpetuated, alleviating Israel from its duty to fix the legal discrimination of Palestinians, the issue of Palestinians being stateless, and many other issues inside the de-facto state of "greater Israel".

If You Want to Get the Message Across, You Have to Work Harder on the Campaign!

To be honest, it took me quite a while to understand what the anti-normalization campaign is all about, and I came to understand it only because I lived for a while in Palestine and dived into the topic. You can't expect the average citizen in Israel, United States or Europe to understand why Palestinians are so hesitant about participating in yet another Israeli-Palestinian dialogue initiative.

If you want to get the message across, you have to work harder on the campaign!

You'd need some catchy slogan, commonly agreed upon, that describes the complex situation in a very simple manner -- simple enough for the world to understand.
Something along the lines of "No Peace Without Justice" or "You can live with us, but not on top of us" or "yes to peace talks, but only on a level playing field" or "you want to talk about peace? let us live in dignity first" or "No Taxation Without Representation" (aluding to the approx $400M that the Israeli government earns each year from indirect imports into Palestine within the joint customs envelope).

A suitable sound track could come from Reggae musician Peter Tosh who composed a song in 1977 on "equal rights and justice" in reference to Palestinians.

The most popular campaign fighting for the rights of Palestinians is the BDS movement, which has taken the slogan "Freedom Justice Equality" into its logo.

Doing Business in Palestine and Normalization

Israel is by far the greatest foreign trade partner of Palestine. A lot of Israeli regulations are applied to Palestinians, upon importing, exporting, travelling, in C-Areas, and many economic sectors. You can assume that almost every Palestinian business lager than 10 employees has to deal with Israel in one way or another.

Whoever plans something big, is facing the risk of being called a "normalizer".

The existing campaigns are lacking clear guidelines on what type of cooperation is deemed acceptable.

Sometimes the campaigning takes weird forms. For instance Taybeh, the only Palestinian brewery, got accused of collaborating with Israeli clients, and as a consequence a couple of bars in Ramallah are boycotting Taybeh, and instead they are selling imported Carlsberg beer that is produced in Israel. Does that sound logic to you?

Or look at Bashar Al Masri, who is developing a large chunk of West Bank land, including a hilltop (which are otherwise typically reserved by jewish settlers), to become a Palestinian city, and thereby providing affordable housing, which will bring prices down in the inflated housing market in and around Ramallah. He provides work for 5000 people, attracts big foreign investment, and a huge Palestinian flag is waving from the hilltop. Most of his construction material is produced in Palestine. Now he gets accused for importing some of the material from Israel. I mean come on guys, get real!

Another example is renewable energy regulation. Israel has introduced a feed-in tariff valid in the west bank, which is subsidized by all other electricity consumers. So with the 0.38 shekel per KWh that Palestine pays for electricity from Israel, it is subsidizing Israeli solar installations. This is unilaterally imposed on Palestine. Not nice, but then Palestine could adopt this feed-in scheme, and profit from the subsidies itself, and letting Israeli consumers pay for Palestinian installations. Instead, the Palestinian Energy Authority (PEA) decided that it doesn't want to adopt that unilaterally imposed subsidy scheme, and therefore Palestinian consumers keep on paying for Israeli solar installations without the possibility of turning the tables.

So, instead of blindly applying anti-normalization everywhere, look at things from a market approach. Working with Israelis is ok where market forces will benefit the Palestinian economy (like for instance the shopping center mentioned in an earlier post) or the village of Bartaa, or the car workshops in Eizariya that repair Israeli cars, or Palestinian export business in general.

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