quotes The diplomacy of normalization: Will Arabs succeed in overcoming their fear of recognizing others?

13 September 2020
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Updated 14 September 2020

The diplomacy of normalization: Will Arabs succeed in overcoming their fear of recognizing others?

Good relations between states, termed diplomatic relations, requires the exchange of interests first and foremost, specifically human interest, which should be the focus of common interest. But the discussion about the normalization of relations often takes a turn that is contrary to the human spirit and the core of our existence as politics sometimes tends to dominate, thus creating barriers and conflicts in order to impose control over humans and sovereignty over lands. If politics can get rid of this obstacle — the need to dominate and exclude others — it becomes a noble practice in the beautiful, philosophical sense.

“Normalization” is one of the most widely used contemporary terms. It is principally a political term that has been overloaded and given religious dimensions that have nothing to do with it. And despite its simplicity, the term refers to making relations normal between two countries after discord or conflict. This includes the exchange of visits and discussing benefits and interests without any sensitivity, objection, aversion or contempt.

Normalization in the Arab world has been linked to the Palestinian cause, which has been dominated by some movements, especially religious ones that monopolized discussing it and gave it non-subjective dimensions. These dimensions were not consistent with the interest of any party to the issue — neither the Palestinians nor the Jews — and the evidence is that they did not succeed in resolving the issue. They deepened the conflict, and contributed to more tension and fighting, resulting in the killing of thousands of innocent people, more settlements and a tighter siege, when peace could have been achieved with minimal losses. Relations have been normal since the dawn of history, but extremist stances harmed the case.

Today, as a result of global and regional changes, some Arab countries have begun to reconsider many of their stances, including normalization with the Hebrew state, or what is known as Israel. The Palestinian Authority regained its power to make decisions after some political movements, which employ religion and exploit the rights of the Palestinians to achieve political and economic aims, held a monopoly on the Palestinian cause, bringing the people of Palestine nothing but more crises, wars and destruction.

That is why some Arab countries, the first being the UAE, announced normalizing relations with Israel, a historic decision that bears so much courage and realism.

This decision is no less important than receiving the Pope, the Year of Tolerance initiative and the big decisions that accompanied it. Normalization is the fruit of this approach that serves the stability of the Middle East and preserves the gains achieved by the Arabian Gulf states in the fields of economy, culture and urbanization, and in the areas of administration, modernity, enlightenment and openness. It also gives the Palestinians the right to life and continuity, a sense of security, stability and peace while living on their territory. Most importantly, the normalization decision puts an end to settlements and stops any Zionist aggression against the people of Palestine. In other words, this agreement is a major turning point that moves the Arab region from conflict to cooperation, from hatred to solidarity, and from wars to reconstruction, thus serving human causes in their spiritual dimension, far from any religious, sectarian, ethnic, or other forms of exclusion and discrimination which delay recovery and disrupt the modernization process in the Arab world.

Perhaps many Arab countries have been practicing normalization for decades without announcing it, except in rare cases in which they were able to have some courage and sovereignty in declaring their position. However, the rest of the countries, as a result of the domination of extremist religious movements, found it extremely difficult to announce the normalization of relations and, therefore, continued to suffer in silence. At the same time, the other side continued to exploit the situation for more settlement, occupation, killing and aggression in the absence of any peace agreement that would be the subject of consensus or be invoked by the developments on the ground, which impose a peaceful, rational, and diplomatic solution to the issue, without a war that may destroy everything.

A brave knight is one who achieves victory without war and without shedding a drop of blood. That is why the normalization decision can only be described as wise, rational and based on the values of humanity, coexistence, and tolerance. These universal values started to spread across the Arab region and became a solution imposed by reality and the future: A solution that ends the pain of the two peoples who would not be harmed by living in peace and harmony.

This normalization does not mean surrender, nor does it indicate surrendering or compromising the rights of the Palestinians.

Rather, it is a rational deal with a complex reality that only worsens day after day, causing Arabs to miss the opportunity for the advancement of civilization and improving the quality of relations, not only between neighboring countries, but also between Arabs themselves. Regional conflicts are increasing, and wars on borders consume a lot of effort. Moreover, the media machine, instead of building a civilized human society, is busy starting more fires and creating enmity between neighbors.

Then scholars and intellectuals ask: Why have Arabs fallen behind while others have advanced? The fact is that progress today can only take place in light of economic and cultural blocs that are at peace with themselves and their surroundings and can contain narrow disputes, manage crises, and ward off political conflicts that do not benefit the Arab peoples, but rather reap more aggression and hatred. This, of course, contradicts the tolerant religious values that insist on good morals, on top of which is tolerance, which is at the heart of every great human civilization.

When “love for all” becomes the title of diplomatic normalization, it becomes a powerful force for containing crises and turning enemies into friends.

God said: “The good deed and the evil deed cannot be equal. Repel (the evil) with one which is better (i.e. Allah ordered the faithful believers to be patient at the time of anger, and to excuse those who treat them badly), then verily! He, between whom and you there was enmity, (will become) as though he was a close friend” [41:34]. This is the meaning of normalization in its deep human significance, which gets its strength from the monotheistic religions and a sense of responsibility towards humanity. According to some of the philosophical theories that emerged after World War II, people are not enemies, but are brothers and sisters who meet each other with smiles and joy. There is no doubt that evoking these meanings can enhance the spread of the idea of tolerance or normalization in the noble political sense, as it is a golden key to bridging gaps between viewpoints and protecting human gains in the fields of rights, development, environment, education, communication and openness.

Islam has recognized that there is no compulsion in religion and insists on choosing peace, calling for reconciliation between adversaries and repelling evil with good deeds. Islam also recommends justice and charity and prohibits offending people, especially the followers of other religions despite their deviation from monotheism. This is because Earth embraces everyone, and choices of faith remain available and permissible provided that the unity, security and stability of society are preserved and human dignity is protected first and foremost, regardless of the differences between human beings.

Guidance is in the hand of the Creator, and the absolute truth is not possessed by man. God Almighty says to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “Surely you cannot guide whom you love, but Allah guides whom He pleases, and He knows best the followers of the right way” [28:56]. This meaning corresponds to freedom as stated by the divine religions and witnessed in the lives of the prophets, the words of scholars and philosophers, and the legacy of the knowledgeable, all of whom created human civilizations. This includes respecting those who are different and not offending them, forcing them to do something they did not voluntarily choose, denying their existence or stripping them of the right to live. This is the very nature of normalization that should be achieved today in light of growing Arab awareness of the values of humanity and the renewal of their view of religion, identity and the future.

Fares Al-Ghannami is a Saudi writer and intellectual interested in political affairs. Twitter: @farescom200