Democracy didn’t solve apartheid’s problems – it sparked a process of addressing them that could not start beforehand. South Africa should remind Israeli and Palestinian leaders that the road to transformation is long and imperfect – and it must start now.
With the possibility that four-term Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could one day fall due to corruption investigations, and succession speculation around aging Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, might a new generation of leadership finally boost the ossified peace process?
It’s hard to be optimistic. Israeli leaders have become too comfortable for too long doing nothing, while the Palestinian leadership seems intent on cannibalizing itself, with the help of the occupation. But future leaders may want to take a look at South Africa, as I did on a recent trip, for some comparative insights about why inaction is a terrible idea.
The first obvious comparison between the two regions made famous in 2006 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s book, Peace, not Apartheid, was important at the time. The shock value (for some) helped place Israel’s occupation on a similar level of severity as the infamous regime. However, over a decade later, the debate over whether occupation should be considered apartheid has grown stale. The word has become a team insignia rather than a signifier, and the toxic argument obscures other valuable insights from South Africa about how a conflict can wane, end, and eventually transform.
In South Africa today, one implicit question seems to run like a river beneath most conversations: is it working? Did ending apartheid bring a better life for the oppressed, while protecting the erstwhile oppressors and their descendants?
Apartheid’s bitter residue still stains the country. Although the policy ended over two decades ago, Peter Sullivan, former chief editor of The Star, South Africa’s premier daily newspaper, stated pointedly to me, “When did it really end?”
Apartheid’s legacy crops up in conversation about nearly all social issues. Young people live with post-conflict experiments designed to equalize educational and professional opportunities. Art exhibits address contemporary struggles of racial identity. The country seems to hover between the vibrancy of a new society building itself – similar to the spirit that drew me to Israel in my 20s – and a descent into grave ills of corruption and crime.
Thus the second main comparison is less about Israel-Palestine, but relates to other post-conflict societies where I have worked: when...Read More