Seeking Mandela:Peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians by Heribert Adam and Kogila Moodley, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 2005, 224 pp.

The analogy between Israel and apartheid South Africa has become an integral part of the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It eases the way, both morally and practically, for those who embrace the comparison to buttress their opposition to Israel and its policies. It is dismissed as unhelpful and thoroughly inappropriate by those who see it as a red flag designed to assail the Zionist enterprise. And it continues to ensnare even those who painstakingly highlight not only obvious similarities but also striking differences.
This is the case with the fascinating, troubling, often insightful, sometimes confusing, overly structured and generally disorganized volume written by Heribert Adam and Kogila Moodley.
These noted academics - whose extensive research on South Africa and conflict resolution shadows their own personal journey as husband and wife - set out to examine this most protracted conflict in the Middle East through South African lenses "…within the paradigm and in support of the broad Israeli-Palestinian peace movement" (p. ix).
Adam and Moodley argue the limits of the Israeli-South Africa comparison, claiming repeatedly not only that the differences far outdistance the similarities, but that the idea that the South African model of peacemaking may be relevant to the Palestinian-Israeli morass is counterproductive. "It may actually retard imaginative new solutions by clinging to visions of processes of negotiations that may not work in another context" (p.165).
Thus, even though the authors seek to "debunk false analogies" (p.18), by immersing themselves in the comparisons and by delving into the parallels, it may seem that they inevitably, albeit inadvertently, contribute to their perpetuation. A close and careful reading of this rich and difficult essay, however, proves otherwise. At virtually every turn, Adam and Moodley carefully and subtly discuss the historical, analytical, and pragmatic constraints of the Israel-South Africa analogy, while simultaneously pinpointing some possible lessons that may be drawn from the South African experience.
The starting point for the comparison, quite understandably, lies in thumbnail sketches of the historical roots of Israel and South Africa (Chapters 2 and 3). Clearly selective by nature - and hence controversial in content - this analysis presses home the convergence in the institutionalization of inequality in the two areas, as well as the divergence in its causes and manifestations.
This variation helps to identify the main differences between the past struggles in South Africa and the persistent conflict between Israelis and Palestinians (Chapter 4 and then again in the Conclusion). Economically, the white economy in South Africa depended on African labor; no such reliance exists in the case of Israel. Religiously, Christianity in South Africa helped to forge a common normative bond; the Palestinian-Israeli dispute is assuming increasingly intractable religious (Muslim-Jewish) overtones. The role of the international community in South Africa, sanctions aside, was minimal; such involvement has been indispensable at every phase in Israeli-Palestinian relations (hence sanctions, in the view of the authors, may prove to be decidedly ill-advised). The political culture in apartheid South Africa rested on substantial (yet unequal) personal interaction; few regular contacts of any sort exist between Israelis and Palestinians. And the patterns of violence are not the same: in South Africa violence, however repressive, was constrained; in the Middle East martyrdom and collective punishment sadly abound.
The leadership factor - so elusive yet so central - cannot be more varied. The cohesion exhibited at crucial moments in the white and African communities in South Africa has not been replicated in either Israeli or Palestinian leadership circles, where strife appears to be the norm. The popular legitimacy evident in the former is absent in the latter.
Palestinian and Israeli counterparts for Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk have yet to emerge. But Adam and Moodley correctly caution against overemphasizing the role of individuals in the resolution of complex conflicts. "As useful as a visionary Mandela in Palestine would have been, we doubt that a single leader, even one of Mandela's stature, could have achieved a solution" (p. 192).
Put starkly, the nature of the conflicts differs, and the road to their termination cannot but diverge. The authors consider alternative visions of the endgame in Israel-Palestine (curiously only in Chapter 5).
While they weigh religious and democratic one-state options, they highlight the immediate appeal of the two-state solution. "In an overused analogy, the South African strife was about an impending marriage contract, the Israeli one concerns the allocation of assets in a drawn-out divorce battle" (p. 192).
Viewed from South Africa, then, the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum is not only geographically remote, its details remain unfamiliar. The universal moral quest for a just solution nevertheless may benefit from certain South African insights. These are sprinkled throughout the book - starting with the plea to discard the demand for an end to violence as a precondition for negotiations. Adam and Moodley underline the importance of nurturing a unified rather than a fractured adversary; they also point to the significance of citizen involvement in critical decisions (p. 19 and elsewhere). The centrality of broad societal inclusion is further highlighted in the context of promoting negotiations.
The potential contribution of the South African experience may, however, be particularly apt in the post-conflict reconstruction process. Two important chapters - one dealing with collective memories and the other with handling transitional justice - may offer a useful handbook for future Israeli and Palestinian decision-makers and civil-rights activists.
The conclusion is inescapable: those truly concerned with confronting the increasingly complex contours of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict - as the authors clearly are - would do well to overcome their initial discomfort with the Adam-Moodley treatment of the Israeli-South African paradigm (many Palestinians will reject the stress on divergence whilst most Israelis will bristle at the insistence on common modalities) and listen to their message.
Israelis and Palestinians, whatever inspiration they draw from other experiences and whatever ideas they borrow from other countries, are going to have to find their own solutions to their problems by themselves or live with the alarming consequences of their inaction.