Where is the Palestinian Mandela?

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?

James Wheeldon


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17 years ago

There can’t be one until the culture changes, James. If a Mandela turned up suggesting a lasting peace with the Israelis he would most likely get blown up. The extreme elements of this society look as though they are the majority. Hamas didn’t receive 60% odd support for nothing. People know exactly where they stood on the subject of peace with israel and acceptance of its status. Pali society is completely dysfuntional in all respects.

The return of occupied land last year kind of proves the point. The land is now used as a forward staging ground for further attacks on the Israelis.

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
17 years ago

JC, Hamas and Fatah in recent polls are line-ball 50%/50% (primary votes – Fatah 32%, Hamas 30%), which hopefully will help give Mahmoud Abbas (if he is able to call an election and do a lot better than the last election) the opportunity to recognise Israel’s existence – a pretty basic step needed for negotiations to begin.


Unfortunately as this article notes, a lot of previous polls have tended to overstate the Fatah vote. But the main reason for the big Hamas vote at the beginning of last year, which noone expected at the time, was the scale of incompotence of the ruling Fatah party, and as mentioned in this post the enormous scale of corruption. But the big barrier in future talks would be as James mentioned the counter-productive nature of the repetition of suicide bombimgs, which continue to poison any attempt for any sort of an accord being reached between the two parties. And with about half the Palestinian population supporting suicide bombing, having some clout to ensure the ridiculous cycle of destruction targeted at buses, pizza parlours, arcades and other soft targets will take some pretty persuasive political actions. For it will be up to the leadership to somehow convince a larger proportion of Palestinians of the need to renounce violence, and at the same time gain some sort of fragile trust with their Israeli neighbours. A bloody difficult political balancing act, but hopefully maybe like the England-Ireland situation, centuries of antipathy can be slowly overcome, but with quite a few painful bumps to test the attempt at reconciliation.

17 years ago

And where is the Jewsih Gorbachev?

The Palestinian Mandela would have been targeted assassinated years ago as a real threat to the Israel as opposed to the uselessness of Arafat, a much preferred option.

Both sides have suffered from a huge deficit of leadership. As does the USA and Australia currently.

We are all doomed.

And remember Mandela was jailed in part because he refused to sign away on the use of violence.

derrida derider
derrida derider
17 years ago

Black South Africans under apartheid were subjected to far worse oppression than the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza are today”

That really is a matter of opinion, mate – I’ve been there and seen how they’re treated. I went there quite pro-Israeli and came back quite pro-Palestinian.

And what Meika said. Its a matter of record, f’rinstance, that Hamas in its early years was funded by the Israelis as a counterweight to Fatah. I’m not saying, though, that it was a farseeing Israeli plot to provoke Palestinian civil war (although in the short term that has of course compensations for them) – the funding turned out to be very much an own goal.

It’s just that the Israelis too have often preferred the “clever” tactical approach that has weakened them in the long-term. Tribalism and war appeal to atavistic urges in us which politicians can easily use to override our own long term interests. More rational politicians have a tough time getting support (vide Gorbachev).

17 years ago

A Jewish Gorbachev? Doesn’t Rabin spring to mind? The fundamental difference between Jewish and Palestinian leaders since has been that the Jewish ones have retained the courage to take risks, even with their own lives, whilst the Palestinian ones have stuck their heads up their rear-ends.

Recognising Israel would be the very slightest sign that Abbas is not from the Arafat mold, and that Palestine has a future.

The alternative is that Israel just shuts them off, sporadically kills their more successful and violent leaders whilst slowly replacing their role in its economy with Eygptians, Jewish immigrants from places like Russia and outsourcing.

Another difference worth speculating on is the extent to which the Palestinians have been able to distort their own position in western consciousness. Without for a second doubting that they are in a pitiful state and deserving of help, if you read an objective list of groups/ethnic populations etc ranked on humanitarian need you’d probably fall asleep before you got to Palestine. Yet they receive a grossly disproportionate part of UN attention, western money, etc -if only Sudan/Zimbabwe/Arab countries themselves/Burma/almost anywhere in Africa/Paraguay/Guatemala/heck almost anywhere in Central America could recieve that level of attention for any sustained period of time.

They’d probably show something for it.

John Humphreys
17 years ago

One big difference between the Israel-Palestine example and the Sth Africa example is that Sth Africa didn’t split up. Indeed, it was split up under apartheid and united under majority black rule by F.W.DeKlerk (s?).

Unlike the whites in Sth Africa, the Israeli’s will never accept an equivalent outcome. Given Palestinian attitudes towards jews, I don’t think they should.

As a side note, one of the old white parties (albeit the centre-left one, now united with the old right-wing one) still holds power in one of the provinces in Sth Africa. They should separate. But they won’t. And the country will go to the shitter. Sad.