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"
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.
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
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