The end of apartheid in South Africa and 13 years of peaceful
transition have lessons for the resolution of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the many political, economic,
sociological and military differences between the situation in
Israel-Palestine and that in the apartheid regime dictate that the
South African experience cannot be replicated in Israel-Palestine.
Benjamin Pogrund pointed this out in his article "South Africa Is
Not a Model for Us" (Vol. 14. No. 2, 2007, pp. 20-26). Despite the
differences, there are enough similarities that useful lessons may
be learned. That was the approach of Lindsay Talmud in "Six South
African Lessons" (Vol. 14. No. 2, 2007, pp. 96-99) in which he
pointed out the characteristics that might be applicable to
Pogrund and Talmud both point out the key roles of F.W. de Klerk
and Nelson Mandela in assuring a peaceful end to apartheid and
assuring a vigorous and peaceful transition. In the following
paragraphs I seek the political drivers that constrained and drove
each leader's actions, and suggest how they may apply to the
Israel-Palestine situation. I seek the political drivers that we
must establish to resolve the conflict.
What Drove de Klerk to Negotiate? What Will Drive Israeli Leaders
F.W. de Klerk was a loyal supporter of the apartheid policies of
the Afrikaner Nationalist Party. As minister of national education,
he supported segregated universities. He was not known to advocate
reform. Yet when elected president in 1989, he abruptly pointed
South Africa in a new direction by opening negotiations with
previously outlawed anti-apartheid organizations. In February 1990
he released Nelson Mandela from prison after 27 years. He restored
to legality the African National Congress (ANC), the Pan-Africanist
Congress, the South African Communist Party and other opposition
groups. These moves thoroughly revolutionized the political
landscape of South Africa.
There is a similarity between apartheid South Africa and the
Israeli-Palestinian situation in that the political leaders and
elites of the militarily stronger party virtually all support the
status quo. In Israel, the leadership supports the occupation of
the West Bank and the settlement project, some because they believe
that Jews have a right to the West Bank, others because they feel
that the occupation is a necessary evil to protect Jewish Israelis
from Palestinian terrorists. Yet the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
will never be resolved as long as Israel maintains the occupation
and continues expanding settlements.
The key questions are: why de Klerk abruptly abandoned his apparent
commitment to apartheid and started negotiations with Mandela and
the ANC; and what will make an Israeli leader abandon the
occupation, pull back on the settlement project and seriously
negotiate with the Palestinians.
The South Africans I spoke to (about 100 from all races and walks
of life) ascribe de Klerk's change to several factors: 1) fear of
black violence and labor stoppages, that is, fear of something like
what is now happening in Zimbabwe; 2) international pressure -
sanctions and boycotts, especially the sports boycott; and 3)
pressure from progressive whites (members of the Nationalist Party
and others) who were unhappy with apartheid or its excesses.
Clearly the fear of black violence and labor stoppages was the most
important driver. In fact, with time the regime became more
repressive, and protests grew stronger. Labor stoppages were a
significant drag on the economy. The apartheid regime was becoming
untenable, and de Klerk recognized as much.
The importance of sanctions and boycotts was mixed. The economic
sanctions seemed to have had little effect, because South Africa
developed an independent economy and there always seemed to be
routes and sources to get around the sanctions. Some people said
the economic sanctions played no part in convincing de Klerk that
apartheid was untenable, but others thought that economic sanctions
were starting to take a toll on day-to-day life. Boycotts were a
different story. Almost every person I spoke to felt that the
sports boycott played a role in ending apartheid. Apparently South
Africa is quite sports-minded (rugby, football and cricket) and the
sports boycott was an important contributor to ending apartheid.
The cultural boycott was unimportant.
It seems that the overall effect of progressive whites was small.
The sports boycott and progressive whites did not drive de Klerk to
negotiate with Mandela; rather, they promoted a willingness and
acceptance among the public to support negotiations.
It can be argued that Israeli leaders have never negotiated in good
faith with the Palestinians, and Israel has rejected many peace
offers from the surrounding Arab states. For example, in the
lead-up to the Annapolis meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert talked about serious negotiations, but his personal actions
and his government's actions worked to stifle negotiations. While
Olmert talks peace, the occupation intensifies as the separation
wall continues to close in, settlements continue to expand and the
military confiscates land from Palestinian villages to build a
Jerusalem-to-Jericho road to route Palestinians around the future
What drivers will convince Israeli leaders to seriously negotiate
with the Palestinians? The major driver will parallel, but not be
identical to, the fear of the apartheid regime becoming untenable
in the face of violent protests or work stoppages. There are not
enough armed Palestinians to existentially threaten Israel, and the
Palestinians are not integral to the Israeli economy. The obvious
weakness in Israel's continuation of its policies is that these are
contingent upon "automatic" diplomatic, military and financial
support from the United States. If the U.S. withheld a portion of
that support, Israeli leaders would quickly be forced to
re-evaluate their policies. I cannot predict what specific policy
changes the leaders would make, but I can predict that they would
stop perpetuating the policies of the past 40 years that have not
provided the Israeli people with either peace or security.
I don't know when the U.S. will change its Israel-Palestine policy,
but it surely will when it becomes a geopolitical necessity. The
Israel lobby will not roll over and relinquish its influence;
rather, it will eventually be overwhelmed by circumstances.
The Israeli people will support their government when it finally
starts to negotiate seriously. Polls show that about two-thirds of
Jewish Israelis are in favor of negotiations with the Palestinians
and a land-for-peace deal that allows a Palestinian state to
emerge. There is a persistent peace camp in Israel - e.g., Peace
Now and Gush Shalom - that will be cheerleaders for serious
negotiations, and the majority of the people will approve. An
actual move by the Israeli government toward real negotiations will
strengthen and encourage the peace camp, as they gain active
support from the majority of Israelis who want peace but have been
discouraged by years of a stagnant peace process.
Another factor that could increase support within Israel for real
negotiations is a cultural boycott, e.g., the Israeli Philharmonic
not being allowed to play in major world capitals, and Israeli
academics cut off from international conferences and
collaborations. I believe that a cultural boycott would be as
disturbing to Israelis and the sports boycott was to white South
How Did Mandela Manage a Peaceful and Constructive
Nelson Mandela was an anti-apartheid leader from the early 1940s
when he and Oliver Tambo were partners in a law practice. During
his 27 years in prison, Mandela became the most widely known figure
in the struggle against apartheid, a cultural icon as a proponent
of freedom and equality, while the apartheid government and nations
sympathetic to it condemned him and the ANC as communists and
terrorists. He developed a theory of reconciliation and negotiation
while still in prison, and developed that theory into policy when
he was released. Mandela won a national election to succeed de
Klerk as president in 1994.
Mandela's policies of reconciliation and negotiation, developed in
conjunction with Bishop Desmond Tutu, were critical for a peaceful
and constructive transition from apartheid to a multiracial
democracy in South Africa. He believed that the Afrikaners had a
right to be in South Africa, and never threatened to drive whites
from the country. Mandela recognized the Afrikaner "story" - he
recognized their humanity. He understood the difficulty of the
voortrekker great treks in the mid-19th century and their victories
and losses in battles with the Zulu; he commiserated with Afrikaner
suffering in concentration camps during the Boer Wars at the end of
the 19th century. Most important was Mandela's appreciation of the
economic accomplishments of the Afrikaners - he recognized that
they were necessary for the South African economy to grow and raise
the living standards of blacks.
Mandela's acceptance of whites as South African citizens
facilitated a peaceful transition and guaranteed that "white
flight" was minimized.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission followed from Mandela and
Tutu's idea of reconciliation. It was a way to bring some justice
to blacks harmed during apartheid and whites harmed by violent
anti-apartheid protests, without destroying South African society.
It is important to remember that both whites and blacks confessed
to apartheid crimes: Whites confessed to police brutality and
collective punishment while working with police or the army, and
blacks confessed to terrorist acts against civilians while working
with militant groups. Punishment was limited to the worst
What Israel-Palestine Needs to Manage a Peaceful and Constructive
The Israel-Palestinian situation is in dire need of mutual
recognition of the other side's humanity and rights, and some
process to allow injured people to get a sense of justice. Leaders
are needed on both sides who recognize that the other has rights
within mandate Palestine.
PLO leaders accept Israel's right to exist, as formally expressed
by changes in the PLO charter in the late 1980s and explicitly
stated by Yasser Arafat in the early 1990s. It was this acceptance
of Israel's existence by the PLO that led to the Oslo agreements.
The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, renewed in 2007, goes further and
offers Israel recognition from all 22 Arab nations. But this
recognition is asymmetrical, because as yet there is no formal
acknowledgement by Israel of the Palestinian's right to a viable
state in mandate Palestine. It is true that Prime Ministers Ehud
Barak, Ariel Sharon and Olmert have talked about a Palestinian
state, but there are two problems. First, a Palestinian state that
they would apparently allow to emerge would not be economically
viable, for it would lack East Jerusalem, its borders would not be
under its control, and it would be divided into disconnected
segments that Sharon called Bantustans. Second, as noted above,
while Israeli leaders talk about negotiations, they maintain the
occupation and continually act to weaken Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), their nominal peace partner.
At the same time, some Palestinians, led by Hamas, do not recognize
Israel's rights in mandate Palestine. Good leadership, real
progress toward a Palestinian state and the accompanying economic
growth can overcome this problem.
More troubling than lack of state acceptance is that in both camps,
many people, including the leadership, do not accept the other's
humanity. It is indeed puzzling why Israeli leaders refuse to
recognize the humanity of Palestinians. Don't they understand that
European Anti-Semitism, culminating in the Holocaust, flowed from
the Christians' refusal to recognize the humanity of Jews?
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was founded on Mandela and
Tutu's determination for the nation to move beyond hatred - to
forgive. This was part of the recognition of the Afrikaners'
humanity. It relied on Mandela and much of the ANC leadership's
recognizing that Afrikaners as well as blacks had suffered during
apartheid. The Commission did not bog itself down in attempting to
determine which side suffered more. Its goal was to pave the way
for a multiracial South Africa.
The key is enlightened leadership on both sides that will recognize
the humanity and rights of the other. South Africa was lucky that
de Klerk gained power while Mandela was active. When such leaders
emerge in Israel and Palestine, they should be encouraged and