(June 22, 2018 / JNS) In the newly published policy book Defeating Denormalization: The Israeli-Palestinian Path Toward Economic Prosperity, Dan Diker of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs proposes an alternate pathway to Israeli-Palestinian relations: using economic cooperation to increase the welfare of the civilian Palestinian population “from bottom to top.”
At the book launch on June 18 in Jerusalem, Palestinian and Israeli contributors to the new volume gathered at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs to discuss their varying critiques of the denormalization movement as antithetical to Palestinian interests and having no place in peace dialogue between the neighbors. They also shared their thoughts on the importance of normalizing economic relations between the two sides, even in the absence of a political solution.
“Even if the political problem has not been solved in the past 25 years since Oslo—and it may not be solved in the next 25 years—that mustn’t prevent good people on the Israeli and Palestinian side from working together, cooperating and engaging because building peaceful relations is from the ground up,” Diker told JNS.
He added that “it’s time to create a more realistic approach of a professional class creating a shared economic foundation for peace. It begins with gainful employment, career development and upward mobility—all these words that the West embraces as principles of good economy.
“The book suggests that Israel, the ‘startup nation,’ is the neighbor that the Palestinian public wants and needs to cooperate, engage and work with,” he said.
‘On-the-ground, concrete model that works’
The test of success of this path can already be seen in the industrial zones in Area C, and factories like SodaStream and Rami Levi in Gush Etzion.
“People want to work together,” maintained Diker. “That’s why you have 30,000 Palestinians and tens of thousands of Israelis working in these 16 industrial zones in Area C of the West Bank and Jerusalem. It can become one of the most effective models for building a shared foundation for economic cooperation and a foundation for peace going forward.”
“We found in our research that in the West Bank, Palestinian men and women who are going to work every day in 16 industrial zones in Area C earn 3.5 times what they earn in Palestinian areas, plus they get insurance and benefits that they can only dream about in Palestinian controlled areas,” explained Diker. “Here on the ground in Israel, anti-normalization is quite undesirable. The geopolitical conditions are fertile for the new approach to take hold. And the new approach already has empirical evidence showing that it works. Peace does not have to be in the field of the moral imagination. We are talking about an on-the-ground, concrete model that works.”
“Anti-normalization means anti-peace,” award-winning Arab Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh told JNS, adding that anti-normalization and BDS activists undermine peace and further radicalization Palestinians.
“If you’re fighting anti-normalization between Jews and Arabs, you are sending the wrong message to the Palestinians that normalization is something bad—that you shouldn’t have normal ties with Jews, and counter calls for peace. And we see that not only on campuses in the U.S., but it’s a lifestyle in Ramallah and East Jerusalem, where meetings between Jews and Arabs who want to promote peace are being targeted by anti-normalization and BDS activists,” said Abu Toameh.
‘We have a good relationship’
In the book, Palestinian writers call out the leadership in Ramallah, which urges denormalization and boycotts against Israel. It also brings attention to the fact that the international community funds the Palestinian Authority without putting pressure to stop their anti-normalization incitement, something Abu Toameh deems as “part of a general anti-Israel incitement and indoctrination.”
Likewise, Daniel Birnbaum of SodaStream and Rami Levi wrote articles testifying to the importance of this economic cooperation, which they deem an “economic peace.”
Nadia Issa, manager of Rami Levy in Ma’aleh Adumim, who has been working at the store for 14 years, said “we aren’t on the Israeli side or the Palestinian side. We are all in the same boat, and we need to understand that we will all drown if we don’t work together.”
Issa condemned the BDS movement for being a body that doesn’t care about the Palestinians and is only interested in attacking Israel. “BDS doesn’t do anything for us. They make money for themselves and their families, but not for the Palestinian people,” she said.
“I work with Israelis, Arabs and Christians. We have a good relationship. We spend time together, eat together and go on trips together, and we have a lot in common. I work and receive a fair wage for my labor, appreciation and respect, and this is very important to me,” she added.
Col. (Res.) Danny Tirza, expert strategic planner in the regions of Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, and researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs noted that this is an excellent opportunity for a different kind of dialogue from what we are familiar with today. According to Tirza, we are seeing more Palestinian entrepreneurs seeking to open their businesses in Area C, and benefiting from Israeli law and the freedom that the civil administration gives them in order to do business also among Israelis.
“Today, Palestinian money is primarily made in the shared industrial zones and not in the corrupt Palestinian Authority, which limits them with its cumbersome bureaucracy,” he said.
Professor Mohammed Dajani, former lecturer at the University of Shechem who organizes Palestinian delegations to Auschwitz, said “the BDS movement, as opposed to other resistance activities that were used in South Africa, don’t work for the Palestinian people, but only against Israel.”
He said the solution to the conflict is not only through economics, but also through education toward peace between the nations, as well as an end to Israeli control of land the Arabs desire.
The English-language book was launched alongside a Hebrew one with an Arabic version expected soon.