Wanted, a Mandela. Or two
Although the two cases are very different, important lessons can be drawn from South Africa for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.
"Seeking Mandela: Peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians" by Heribert Adam and Kogila Moodley, published by Temple University Press, Philadelphia, $21.95
The ripple of boycotts and attempted boycotts against Israel grows wider, from churches in the United States to academics in Britain and Palestinian activists. Time and again, a motivating force is to say that Israel is like apartheid South Africa. If this link can be established, then Israel can be declared illegitimate, as was the old South Africa, and thus justifiably the target for international attack and isolation.
The husband-and-wife team of Heribert Adam and Kogila Moodley challenge the validity of the analogy. They are well-qualified to do so: they are noted Canadian academics with a long history of researching, teaching and writing about South Africa, and have also done considerable work on Israel-Palestine.
They say flatly: "Although Israel and apartheid South Africa are often equated as 'colonial settler societies,' we argue that the differences outweigh the similarities." They warn that the "simplistic assumption that the South African model readily lends itself to export may actually retard necessary new solutions by clinging to visions or processes of negotiation that may not work in another context."
Adam and Moodley provide profuse details of comparisons and differences (sometimes confusingly so because of their summaries of summaries and repetitious language). In South Africa, for example, blacks and whites were economically interdependent, and this invested the blacks with power; in contrast, Israel relies minimally on Palestinian labor. Religion is significant: Christianity provided a common bond in South Africa, whereas here, Judaism and Islam compete. Even under apartheid, there was social interaction between whites and blacks, in contrast to the social distance between Israelis and Palestinians.
Blacks never used suicide in South Africa and did not have a policy of killing white civilians. In Israel, attacks on civilians are commonplace: they unify Israeli public opinion on security and destroy the fabric of Palestinian society.
Nor does South Africa's achievement of a single inclusive state point to a road ahead here. A binational Israeli-Palestinian state is desirable for economic reasons, but so many people on both sides reject it that the idea is "unrealistic and utopian".
Adam and Moodley also question the efficacy of divestment and boycotts. They say sanctions are "generally overrated" in explaining the downfall of apartheid. In addition, "if applied unwisely, outside pressures can sometimes be counterproductive."
Important lessons can, however, be drawn from South Africa for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. South Africa showed that peace by ultimatum does not work. Israel, on the other hand, continues to insist that the enemy must be subdued before negotiations can start. "Such supremacist talk ensures rejection, because it does not allow the opponent even the face-saving dignity of respect," say Adam and Moodley.
Then, too, they say, Israel's insistence that violence must stop before negotiations can begin hands veto power to anyone with a gun or explosives: "Nobody is able to enforce such demands. Trust is the outcome, not a precondition, of negotiations. Enemies, not friends, need to negotiate." The African National Congress continued its armed struggle long after negotiations began, as did the white government's violence to enforce its laws.
Negotiators must be freely chosen by each side, and one side cannot dictate to the other who their leader should be. The credibility of negotiators is crucial, because if they agree to compromises, they must be able to persuade their followers to accept, however painful the transition might have to be.
In another example, South Africa showed that encouraging strife and internal conflict among an opponent backfires. The apartheid government's divide-and-rule policy to split the black majority did not halt the move to freedom. Nor did promotion of interblack violence - which did, however, result in a brutalized youth and a continuous high crime rate. So "the personal rivalries, cronyism, and illegitimacy of Palestinian warlords undermine potential settlements. If Israel aims at a settlement, it has an interest in a cohesive Palestinian partner." Adam and Moodley note that while democratic reforms are always desirable, national self-determination cannot hinge on the system of government: "peace cannot be made contingent on how democratically Palestinians behave." If that rule were to apply, they point out, Israel should never have signed peace agreements with autocratic Jordan and Egypt. To which could be added that the United States and other democracies would have to review their relations with the world's many non-democratic nations.
However unpalatable it might be, efforts must also be made to draw the most extreme factions into the democratic process. This proved less of a problem in South Africa because the African National Congress was clearly representative of the majority and smaller extreme black and white factions could be sidelined or ignored. It is certainly a greater problem for Israelis and Palestinians because extremist groups command more (although not majority) support.
The words "Seeking Mandela" in the title lead to speculation of what might have happened, or might still happen, through the unifying moral and strategic leadership of a Palestinian Nelson Mandela. It has not, of course, come to pass and the authors are not hopeful about the future. Perhaps we should also be wishing for an Israeli Mandela.
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