Even in his wildest dreams, Martin Luther King couldn’t have imagined that fewer than 50 years after his death, in free South Africa, the first black president of the United States would eulogize Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa and a symbol of the struggle to liberate the blacks. The struggle that began in the United States against slavery, and later against racial segregation - was completed in South Africa, with the abolition of apartheid and the transfer of government from the white minority to the people. The poetic qualities of that historic moment, which the entire world witnessed, seem almost like a product of divine intervention.
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“This has nothing to do with narratives, there’s one historical truth,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, explaining his historical philosophy to British Prime Minister David Cameron, who visited Israel last month. And in fact, if the history of humanity is the consolidation of narratives into one truth, what is the truth that was revealed by Netanyahu’s demonstrative absence from the exceptional historic event?
Netanyahu’s perception of history as a story of one truth emphasizes the significance of simultaneous events worldwide. The biological clock of oppression was ticking in the early 1990s in two centers in the world: South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk and Mandela sat around the negotiating table during the same years when then- Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin sat with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, and look where those who succeeded in crossing the abyss are today, and where those who fell into it remain.
Why should we be surprised that we excluded ourselves from the world’s first selfie? Even the “magician” Bibi was unable to be in two places at once - in Israeli apartheid and at the party celebrating the victory of light over darkness.
The status quo, in other words the perpetual situation of institutionalized discrimination and the existence of two separate legal systems that operate in parallel - a system of civil law inside the Green Line and in the settlements, and a system of military law that applies to the Palestinians on the other side of the green Line - is what is turning Israel into an apartheid state. There is no need to seek dramatic comparisons beyond that, not that they are lacking.
As the son of a historian, Netanyahu cannot deny the connection between oppression and the strengthening of nationalist aspirations; the Jews sharpened the nails of their national attachment to their historical homeland on the walls of oppression that surrounded them. Therefore, he cannot deny Israel’s decisive role in the construction of Palestinian nationalism.
The only relevant historical question today is how to fulfill the Palestinians’ aspiration to implement their nationalism in a just manner, which will prevent the continued fanning of its flames by the fuel of Israeli oppression - out of an understanding that the peace agreement is the first stage, and not the last, in a life of neighborly relations and cooperation between two political entities. What seems to be missing in the Israeli position in this context is good will.
At the junction of narratives in which historical truth is forged, there is need for a leader who is capable of making history, and not just rewriting it. Netanyahu has failed in his role as Israel’s prime minister, because he tried to deceive the god of history: Instead of asking what he can do for history, he asked what history could do for him.