June 8, 2009
‘He smelt wise’. So said an American student today on some CNN report, after he had met Nelson Mandela.
I am going to do something I don’t like. Use South Africa as an example in this ongoing Israeli-Palestinian saga. It is of course wrong to compare the 2 situations.
In Israel, the Palestinians have equal rights (their sometimes referred-to ‘2nd-class citizenry’ is little different to that which is claimed by several Jewish minorities in Israel – and minorities in your own countries). Israel’s problem is not with its own citizens, but with its neighbours, who have trouble accepting its right to exist.
I have often stated the following 2 opinions:
If the Israelis and Palestinians ever solve their problem, it would only be to prove that this is not the problem – which is far greater than this sad regional conflict.
The only hope is for a Mandela or perhaps a Martin Luther King to come along and inspire the Palestinians and their supporters; to show them the light and teach them the reality of co-existence and tolerance. (And please do not tell me now that the problem is on both sides. Of course there is an extremist minority in Israel who have a mutual antagonism against the Palestinians, but they do not have, nor ever will have the power or influence to do anything).
Well, maybe Mandela has come along, in the guise of Barack Hussein Obama.
I was ready to criticise his speech in Cairo. I was ‘warned’ to listen to it first. I did so. Of course I found holes in it. I can imagine that his own writers found many holes. But that’s not the point. That’s not diplomacy. That’s not where Mandela was coming from.
We have the ‘luck’ that George Bush was such a diplomatic disaster. This only helps Obama.
It is also fortunate that he has some Islamic connection. Although polls show that in some Arab countries, the US presidency has actually gone down in popularity with Obama (they include, unsurprisingly, Gaza and Lebanon), the fact is that most Arab Muslim nations are optimistic. Israel is very concerned, of course. They know that any agreements will mean concessions, and I think it is easy to show that they have already given so many.
I wanted the new Mandela to come from the Arab Muslim ranks. Such a moderate would be more believable. But a US President ‘buttering up’ the Muslims does also hold hopes for the future.
There are so many obstacles facing Obama right now. It is doubtful that he will survive his 4 or 8 years without turning white (the hair, I mean). But as far as ‘the New Beginning’ is concerned, his dialogue with the World’s Muslims, we might be wishing he came from an Arab dictatorship. For he will likely need much more than 8 years to re-educate those young minds who currently see only hate.
In S. Africa, Mandela has retired from politics, leaving behind a country which, although smitten with 50 murders a day, has been granted the 2010 Football World Cup. That was unthinkable 20 years ago.
We in the Middle East are never going to get the life we dream of. Who does? And I certainly don’t believe the S. Africans are so happy with 50 murders a day. But whatever is on the horizon, I do hope and believe Obama will influence.
Hey! What other choice do we have?