Friday, October 22, 2004

Hirsh Goodman
Yasser Arafat told an interviewer recently that he wants to be remembered like Nelson Mandela, and that he would retire from his current position as president of no state only when the Palestinian state is established.

For Yasser Arafat to be like Nelson Mandela, day will have to turn to night, and night to day, the Messiah would have to arrive and ice cream be given out free, Madonna would have to become Esther and the Seven Dwarfs giants and camels would need to fly.

Mandela knew when to stop. He fought for his people, sat in prison, used terror, but he knew when to negotiate an end to the bloodshed. He was prepared to share with the whites. Arafat is not prepared to end the conflict and bloodshed, and he’s apparently not prepared to share what he sees as his people’s historic homeland. President Clinton, with the permission of then-prime minister Ehud Barak, offered Arafat 96 percent of the West Bank, all of Gaza, a land exchange for the remainder and, unbelievably, sovereignty over the mosques on Haram al-Sharif, the Temple Mount. Arafat, his appetite insatiable, refused.

After his victory in South Africa, Mandela could have done what others in Africa have done -- get rid of white colonialists, just as Robert Mugabe has been doing in Zimbabwe. Instead, Mandela decided to embrace the whites, immediately make them an integral and secure part of the new South Africa, building on their skills rather than dancing on their ashes. Mandela saw a new future for all the peoples of South Africa, built on tolerance and democracy. Picture Arafat in Mandela’s place: Can we call Arafat tolerant? Democratic? Embracing? Compromising? Another Mandela?

It is extremely unfortunate for all of us in this region that Arafat is not and can never be another Nelson Mandela. Arafat is, as President Bush has said, a failed leader. For proof, take a quick visit to Gaza or a drive through what could have been Palestine and is now more and more becoming Israeli-held Judea and Samaria, where there’s hardly a hilltop left without a Jewish settlement. Nothing more needs to be said.

Arafat has led his people to hell; Mandela led his to salvation. Arafat has brought about the destruction of Palestinian cities, towns, villages and homes. The new South Africa, with all its problems, is flourishing. Arafat has embraced suicide bombers and merchants of death. Mandela’s South Africa is about being reborn in a society of equals.

It has become very chic to say that Israel is the reincarnation of apartheid South Africa. The Palestinians are playing the odious comparison for all it’s worth at every possible opportunity, from the Durban 2002 conference on racism to the International Court of Justice in The Hague this year. The comparison between Israel with its free press and independent courts to apartheid South Africa, where people disappeared into the night never to be seen again, is about as accurate as Arafat comparing himself to Mandela.

Israel’s continued occupation of the territories is morally wrong, though it may be militarily justified. The point is that Israel had a prime minister who tried to give them back and the offer was refused and Arafat was the man who refused it. He could just not bring himself to make peace with the occupiers of Acre and Jaffa and Haifa. Mandela turned South Africa’s apartheid police force into South Africa’s police force, changing their mandate from enforcing apartheid to ending it. Mandela urged the diplomats representing apartheid South Africa at missions abroad to stay in their posts and represent the New South Africa, using their diplomatic skills to best further their country’s cause.

Arafat has seven security forces under his command. He uses one against the other. He turns a blind eye to groups within his own Fatah movement who send suicide bombers on their missions. Mandela had real strength as a leader. He did not need intrigue to stay in power. Arafat survives on intrigue. Without it he would be long gone.

The thought of comparing himself with Mandela is a symptom of the same megalomania that brought Arafat to start the current war with Israel, now in its fifth year, believing that the Jews would run and Israel would collapse. Mickey Mouse will become Mandela before that happens.

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