Later this week, I’ll be flying back home after spending a month with my love here in Spain. When I flew to Madrid last month, I could not imagine that a few weeks later, I would be following the news coming from Israel for hours at length throughout the eleven days of the latest round of fighting with Hamas.
A day after the ceasefire took hold, I listened to the press conference of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu en the Minister of Defense Benny Gantz. As expected, Netanyahu claimed a total victory, warning that in the next round, if Hamas would be dumb enough to instigate new hostilities, the blows would fall harder than ever before.
At first, Ganz spoke similarly but then expressed the hope that this could be the right time to try and seek a political solution. This round of fighting, which was the most devastating, and also the most expensive military ‘action’ Israel ever staged in its altercations with Hamas, should be the last, he declared.
From his lips to God’s ears.
I recalled a conversation that I had back in 1993 with an American colleague while nursing a glass of wine on Tel Aviv’s beachfront. A year later, Nelson Mandela would become the president of South Africa.
“Who is a leading figure on the Palestinian side,” he asked, “who can break the gridlock in negotiations between the Israeli and the Palestinians? I understand that doing business with Yassir Arafat is almost impossible. But there has to be someone in the younger generation that knows how to conduct Realpolitik?”
I mentioned the name of Marwan Barghouti. “He may not be a Mandela, but he is a realist. I hope he may play a pivotal role in the future to come. He is young, well-educated, and, most importantly, not part of the corrupt Fatah gang.”
Twenty-five years later, we know that in 2000, a disillusioned Bargouthi threw everything in the wind and chose to become one of the leaders of the violent Second Intifada. In 2002, he was captured, arrested, tried, and convicted to five consecutive life sentences for orchestrating numerous terrorist attacks. Since then, Barghouti has been sitting behind bars in de Ramon prison in the Negev Highlands in southern Israel. I often drive past this jail.
But Barghouti has not become less visible or present in Palestinian politics. More than 60 percent of the Palestinians in the Westbank believe that with the upcoming – but postponed – elections for the parliament and presidency of the Palestinian Authority, Barghouti would be an ideal candidate to replace the incumbent President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen.
(Of course, there are others jockeying for position for the leadership position. Mohammed Dahlan, a former, prominent Fatah leader from Gaza, has been waiting for his chance while in exile in the United Arab Emirates, playing power games behind the scenes. While proven corrupt to the core, he may try and step onto the stage at some point.)
Could Barghouti become the Palestinian Mandela?
In an article published in 2017, “The Myth of the Palestinian Mandela,” Dexter van Zile wrote:
“Clearly, Mandela’s great accomplishment was to turn violence and hatred into the generous desire for peace and reconciliation. A Palestinian Mandela would have to do the same. He would have to show the willingness and the ability to get Palestinians to abandon their efforts to murder, demonize, insult, humiliate, and intimidate Israeli Jews into leaving their homeland or, barring that, submit to Arab and Islamic dominance over their lives. Thus far, the Palestinian leadership has shown an unwillingness, to say the least, to do so, and Barghouti is no exception.”
Van Zile emphasized that any opposition to Barghouti – freed by the Israeli political establishment and therefore acting with its approval – as a unifying Palestinian leader would come from the religious, if not fanatical Islamic factions.
“In the Palestinian context, a would-be Mandela would have to confront and contend with religious, not racial issues. Many so-called peace and justice activists would have us believe that the primary obstacles to peace are Jewish claims to the West Bank, but the real challenge is Muslim supremacism. The Palestinian elite wields power because of its willingness to, at the very least, pay lip service to this supremacism. This is how Yasser Arafat achieved and stayed in power and how Abbas has remained president of the Palestinian Authority.
I am, because of the broad support Barghouti enjoys in the Westbank, a bit more optimistic.
But the biggest obstacle will not be the Palestinians’ support for Barghouti, but the fierce and possibly violent opposition the Israeli government will face from the extreme, religious, and fanatical right.
But hope springs eternal. Most of the Israeli are still in favor of a two-state solution. More than 40 years ago, Prime Minister Menahem Begin succeeded in winning over the majority of his rightwing government and rightwing Knesset (parliament) to ratify the peace treaty with Egypt.
One may hope that the broad, rightwing government that will soon come to the fore will grab the chance to write history.
From my lips to God’s ears.
(Photo: Courtesy Michael Gal)