Israel’s Abnormal ‘Normal’ with its Neighbors

Israel often acts as if a simmering state of war with its Muslim neighbors is the only possible future, while occasionally playing off one nation against another, a “normal” that is not normal, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar

By Paul R. Pillar

It has long been generally regarded, and properly so, to be in everyone’s best interests if Israel had normal relationships with its regional neighbors. Normal relations are a condition for commerce and mutual prosperity. Normal relations are the stuff of peace rather than of the repeated wars that have been fought between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

We rightly applauded Anwar Sadat when he negotiated a peace treaty and established diplomatic relations with Israel, and we rightly criticized other Arab states for ostracizing Egypt itself after Sadat’s initiative. Even small instances of Arab ostracism of Israel get criticized today, as when an Egyptian judo athlete refused to shake his Israeli opponent’s hand after a match at the Olympics.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Aug. 6, 2014, announced the success of Operation Protective Edge, which killed some2,000 Gazans. Netanyahu said, "The goal of Operation Protective Edge was and remains to protect Israeli civilians." (Israeli government photo)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Aug. 6, 2014, announced the success of Operation Protective Edge, which killed some 2,000 Gazans. Netanyahu said, “The goal of Operation Protective Edge was and remains to protect Israeli civilians.” (Israeli government photo)

Israel could have had full and normal relations with its Arab neighbors long ago. Many years have passed since most Arab governments in effect accepted Zionism. A peace initiative by the Arab League, offering full normalization of Arab relations with Israel in return for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee issue, has been on the table since 2002.

The Arab governments later reaffirmed the offer and indicated additional flexibility regarding the acceptability of land swaps when drawing a final boundary between Israel and a Palestinian state. Israeli leaders, despite saying some favorable things about the initiative, have in effect ignored it, preferring to cling to all of the conquered Palestinian territory with a continued occupation.

But although these have been the Israeli priorities, the possibility of full and…

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