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Turning a profit from normalization
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The debate about normalization, and the ways it undermines the struggle against occupation, revolves mostly around issues such as meetings, conferences, youth camps for Israelis and Palestinians and other so-called “co-existence” activities.
But very little has been said and written about the economic element or the profit that comes from normalization.
Since the Oslo negotiations began, a new economic sector emerged in Israel – a group of people who make money off of normalization projects, funded by donors in Europe and the US. These Israelis, and a smaller number of Palestinians, repeat the ritual of organizing joint activities for Israelis and Palestinians, creating the illusion as if such events would contribute to diffusing the conflict, and disregarding the actual causes for the conflict. Many donors are happy to contribute to these projects, because they can boast that they’re supporting the “peace process,” while steering clear of controversial issues. The people who organize these projects have made a career out of them and continue to do so today, long after the actual “peace process” has sputtered.
The Peres Center for Peace, an Israeli NGO named after Israeli President Shimon Peres, is one of the most well-known normalization NGOs. Its opulent building in the city of Jaffa, an area that was unilaterally annexed by the Tel Aviv municipality, stands as a perfect example of what the organization represents. The giant, shining, foreign-funded structure is surrounded by dispossessed and impoverished Palestinians--whom the organization pretends to “help” and involve as “equals,` while ignoring the history of injustice that has formed the current situation both in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The Israeli government is quick to capitalize on normalization projects, citing them in the reports of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Quartet and as part of its “hasbara” (propaganda) strategy.
However, the actual economic significance of these “peace-process careerists” is negligible. Economic normalization encompasses deeper and stronger economic interests, which can affect the economic future of the entire region.
The best example is the “Peace Corridor” plan. The plan has many components, and as of yet negotiations continue and it is not clear which components will be implemented and which won’t. These components include digging a canal to connect the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, in order to raise the water level in the Dead Sea while generating hydroelectric power, used mainly to desalinate water. Another component is a railway to bring raw materials from Jordan, to be processed in the Jenin area in the OPT by Palestinian workers and then sent to Haifa port in Israel to be exported to Europe. Other components are tourism attractions and agriculture to be developed along the Israeli-Jordan border.
The project is promoted as a joint Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian project. Jordan is in it for the international investments, Israel stands to gain a boost to its exports to Europe (again, with foreign investments), and the Palestinian representatives would be treated, at least for the purposes of this project, like representatives of a state. Israel also stands to gain another benefit – projects such as this allow Israeli companies to enter Arab markets that would otherwise be closed to them (such as the Gulf States), because the products would bear labels like “made in Jordan” or “made in Palestine,” even though Israeli companies take a share of the profits.
It is no coincidence that the Peres Center for Peace is working hard to promote this project. The Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), a Japanese governmental organization, has already committed to spend funds on the project despite Japan’s recent tragedies. Israeli billionaires such as Yitzhak Tshuva have also expressed interest in the project.
Many of the aspects of the “Peace Corridor” plan might make economic sense, and should be considered. However, the unequal power relations in the negotiations make it highly unlikely that Palestinians will receive their fair share of the project’s profit. Until Palestinians can negotiate from a position of strength, all such agreements--which are forged under the illusion of normal relations between Palestinians and Israelis, glossing over the inequalities inherent in dispossession and occupation--could create long-lasting damage to the Palestinian economy, damage Palestinians would be unable to prevent. This, of course, points to an essential problem with all forms of normalization, including the token projects like the Peres Center for Peace-ignoring the unequal power relations and creating the semblance of negotiations causes harm to Palestinian interests, thwarting the Palestinians` ability to become masters` of their own fate.
Shir Hever is the author of The Political Economy of Israel`s Occupation
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