Israel-Arab normalisation reinforces Zionism & Apartheid

Arab normalisation with Israel reinforces Zionist settler colonialism & Apartheid
8 min read

Azmi Bishara

28 September, 2023
Arab normalisation with Israel, motivated by narrow interests, sidelines the Palestinian cause, with moral decay, economic disappointment, and the reinforcement of Israel's settler-colonialism and apartheid its only outcome, writes Dr. Azmi Bishara.
[AFP via Getty]

For some reason, the term ‘normalisation’ has been translated into Arabic using the word "Tatbi’", derived from the Arabic word Tabi’i or natural, when in English, the term derives from normal, which means usual or ordinary rather than natural.

The African nations that had boycotted South Africa, refusing to normalise relations with the apartheid regime, were much more impoverished than the Arab nations and more in need of economic ties with the abnormal entity in their neighbourhood. These African states were neither more democratic nor less authoritarian than the Arab states of today, yet the Africans, both peoples and regimes, unanimously agreed on opposition to racism and colonialism.

Undoubtedly, apartheid South Africa – and Israel, which remained its staunch ally until the very end – had been a holdover of the era of colonialism. In our region, the unanimity regarding the stance on Israeli occupation, the last remaining unresolved instance of colonialism, at least inasmuch as it was once expressed publicly, has faded.

If we put aside here the moral stance – which should never be put aside except for the sake of argument – and consider instead normalisation as a purportedly practical and pragmatic move, we find that in reality, even then, it is not a justification. This applies to both the countries bordering Palestine and those who were never officially part of any wars related to Palestine.


Indeed, the thinking that Israel can help strengthen or secure relations between normalising Arab regimes, and the United States, is mired in delusions. This kind of logic leads to endless extortion, while those who put their internal affairs in order and preserve a minimum level of stability – we are not even saying justice – and act responsibly in matters of foreign policy can make a compelling argument of credibility in East and West.

In terms of the economy, a brief look at the states that have normalised relations with Israel since the Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel shows that relations with Israel are not an answer to economic hardships in any country, nor an alternative to social justice and rational economic policies.

But can normalising ties with Israel help resolve the Arabs’ internal conflicts, or does it actually fuel them?

It is self-evident that all normalisation is taking place at the expense of the Palestinian people. Still, we need to go further and consider whether making unreciprocated concessions to Israel is at the expense of the broader Arab nation and Arab peoples. To answer this, one only has to quickly scan the state of affairs in the region to notice the combination of political and moral decadence, by the yawning gap between the peoples and the regimes seeking normalisation in the context of this decadence.

Let’s say the Arab regimes do not want to be bothered by arguments proving the justness of the cause of Palestine, which are convincing arguments indeed to large segments of the American public opinion. Then, consider the ‘pragmatic’ argument against normalisation that can be put to the ageing President Biden, who will not gain a single vote from his push for normalisation, pressuring the Arab states out of his sheer convictions or out of the old cold-war conceptions of hegemony based on stability of authoritarian allies: In short, every Arab step taken to normalise relations with Israel has so far only made Israel more extreme, intransigent, and convinced that only the logic of might is right works with the Arabs, as they keep climbing down from one peace initiative to another with fewer conditions attached.

With the present extremist government in Israel, this trend is even starker: Indeed, normalisation would be rewarding the practices of the Israeli government and Israeli fundamentalist nationalist-religious settlers for whom even an unjust peace with the Arabs is not a priority. Even Biden could be convinced by this argument, yet those Arabs desiring normalisation will not make use of it because they have ulterior motives. They are ever looking for justifications for it rather than an offramp.

There, normalising regimes do not need to discuss any claimed benefits for the Palestinians due to their policies. All agreements have demonstrated that the marginalization of the Palestinian cause is their direct outcome because they are based on the premise that normal relations with Israel are possible without resolving the question of Palestine. It also endorses Israel’s perspective present since the Nakba, which holds that Palestine is marginal in the context of what was once called the Arab-Israeli conflict, a conflict that continues only from the perspective of Arab peoples but not their ruling regimes.

The truth is that the Palestinian cause is not present in the motives of normalisation-seeking Arabs, neither positively nor negatively. Rather, the crux revolves around their demands and expectations from the United States. This cannot be camouflaged by photoshoots with Mahmoud Abbas, or even with Hamas leaders, nor by wearing the Palestinian keffiyeh – all a repugnant, hackneyed ritual. Israel is not asked to give up its expanding project of settlements  – nor the unity of its governing coalition – for the sake of any such peace agreements. So, it has to be at the expense of the Palestinians.

Even with no relevance for the Palestinian cause in their calculations, some normalisation-seeking Arabs justify their engagement with, and concessions to Israel by attacking the Palestinians and even Arabs in general. Almost all normalisation processes have included propaganda campaigns artfully papering over the gap between what a moral ethos demands and their praxis, between convictions and actions, with an incredible sense of cognitive dissonance designed to silence the conscience and manipulate convictions. All this as part of the moral, political, and cultural decadence in whose context normalisation is embedded.

However, Anwar Sadat took a step further than those who had secret relations with Israel when he signed peace and normalisation accords with Israel, reducing the issue to one of bilateral border settlements. In the following period, Egypt was expelled from the Arab League, which relocated its headquarters from Cairo to Tunis, and the Steadfastness and Confrontation Front was created to oppose this trajectory.

Yet this trajectory resumed. Such official ‘fronts’ are no longer established, nor are anti-normalisation conferences held. Some now argue that normalisation with Israel is a matter of national sovereignty, as though the fundamental question here is the legal prerogative of states to conclude bilateral peace treaties. But the issue is not a technical, legal one; it is political and moral, and this is the heart of the opposition to many sovereign decisions made by states, from waging war to concluding peace agreements.

The Palestinian issue has not been solved, but it is becoming less amenable to exploitation by the Arab regimes. On the other hand, Israel, as it insists on expanding settlements and annexing territory, has transfigured its settler occupation to an apartheid system in the heart of the Arab region. This can never become natural or normal, and it will be impossible to brainwash the Arab peoples into accepting it.

Dr. Azmi Bishara is a Palestinian intellectual, academic and writer.

Follow him on Twitter: @AzmiBishara

This is an edited translation. First published in Arabic by our friends in Al-Modon.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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