A few days after fighting between Hamas and Fatah took a dozen lives and led to the destruction of various Palestinian government buildings, the Fatah-affiliated head of Palestinian intelligence services believes Palestine is on the verge of civil war:
We are already at the beginning of a civil war, no doubt about it. They (Hamas) are accumulating weapons and a full-scale civil war can break out at any moment.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya has responded to the crisis by declaring:
I tell you with all honesty, we will not recognize Israel, we will not recognize Israel, we will not recognize Israel!
I remember a Tom Friedman column from a few years ago, in which he said that Yassir Arafat’s worst failing as a leader was that he was obsessed with the external contours of the proposed Palestinian state that is, its border with Israel and never gave any thought to its internal contours its finances, its judicial system, its police force, its education system and so on. (Another pretty big problem with Arafat was that he was corrupt on a massive scale.) Now the Palestinian people are suffering the consequences of decades of failed leadership, and the bosses of Fatah and Hamas continue to blame Israel (and each other) for all of Palestine’s problems.
I have often wondered where the Palestinian Nelson Mandela is, because it seems to me that if the Palestinians had ever been led by a person possessed of Mandela’s vision and generousity of spirit then Palestine would have been a successful, peaceful and prosperous independent state for many years now. Black South Africans under apartheid were subjected to far worse oppression than the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza are today, yet even while apartheid was still in place Mandela and other African National Congress leaders were able to focus with extraordinary intensity on how they would go about building a prosperous and tolerant society after the establishment of full democracy. Vengeance and the settling of scores were rejected in favour of building a new South Africa on the basis of principles of amnesty and reconciliation. (In fact, the pro-apartheid lobby used to argue before 1994 that scrapping apartheid would lead to civil war between the Xhosa and Zulu peoples; that of course never happened.)
By seeking the moral high ground at every available opportunity, Mandela not only speeded the demise of apartheid but also laid the framework for South Africa’s post-apartheid renaissance.
The Palestinian leadership seems to have ignored the lessons of South Africa. Instead of seeking the moral high ground, they send suicide bombers to Israeli pizza parlours. Instead of building a Palestinian state, they dwell incessantly on their perceived victimhood at the hands of the Israelis. Instead of making plans for the future of independent Palestine, they renew their calls for the total destruction of the Jewish state.
I fully realise that many Palestinians feel very hard done by the Israelis, and that many Palestinian people continue to feel entitled to exclusive possession of all of the original lands of Palestine. But black South Africans were treated just as badly by the Europeans, and they certainly have just as strong an historical claim to all of the lands of southern Africa as the Palestinians do to the lands of Israel, and yet black South Africans, unlike the Palestinians, have proven willing and able to get beyond the stage of settling scores.
Why is it that black South Africans and white South Africans can live together in one nation, but Jews and Arabs can’t coexist peacefully in adjacent nations? Is it really entirely the fault of the Jews? Where is the Palestinian Nelson Mandela?