We haven't spoken about the old argument involving Palestinian-Mandelas (aka "Pandelas") but with the passing of Nelson Mandela this weekend I expected it to pop back up sooner or later. Surprisingly the first one came with a news article about John Kerry encouraging both sides to act like Mandela and make peace:
See? The readership reacted basically as you would expect: just mindlessly attacking Israel and not even bothering to pretend that the Palestinians actually want peace. There was also some anti-Semitism thrown in for funsies.
But I wanted to take a minute to discuss the return of the Pandela to the Huffington Post. Back in 2011 it seemed that the Huffington Post blogger stable was churning out articles trying to prove that this Palestinian or that was a new Gandhi or Mandela. They all failed: Khader Adnan, who the Huffington Post described as a "baker," turned out to be suicide bomb-supporting member of Islamic Jihad. Ayed Morrar, who claimed to be a moderate while ducking the real issues, commanded little besides his own followers. Finall, there was Adeeb Abu Rahma, who was just like Morrar. Allow me to quote myself from 2010, speaking about how there are two kinds of Pandelas beyond the usual problems with them:
"1. People like Rahma who are truly (we think) committed to non-violence. However, they don't hold any political power short of a hundred or so people. They are more like the leaders of Boy Scout troops or community organizers than Presidents or generals. It's likely that the higher-ups in the PA keep them around because they can hold them up as Palestinians who are non-violent but don't expect them to advance any further up the ladder. Whether or not Israel treats them unfairly is almost a non-issue, they aren't going to be making changes to the political landscape anyway.
2. People like Marwan Barghouti (the original Pandela) who are politicians and have popular support, but commit terrorist activities then face justice at Israel's hands. While they are in prison suddenly and miraculously they have a spiritual awakening that causes them to embrace non-violence. We know this because they told us so, very sincerely, from their prison cells. Once their awakening occurs they immediately start the propaganda machine up to rant and wail about how unfairly yet another Pandela has been treated at the hands of the cruel and oppressive Israel. Their terrorist past is swept under the rug or excused somehow."So when people like John Kerry say "Where is the Palestinian Mandela?" Palestinians supporters respond in one of three ways: The first is getting pissed off and ranting about Israel. The second is pointing to people like Rahma who don't endorse bombings of civilians, and therefore are saintly by the sliding scale of Palestine. The third, and by far the most common one, is that there are many Pandelas who are put in jail by Israel because Israel doesn't want peace. Just ask Joseph Dana from 2011:
"And so hundreds of Palestinian Gandhis are brought before draconian Israeli military tribunals each year, only to face long sentences that nearly ensure that the world will never learn their names."This argument is convenient because it gives you a plausible excuse as to why there are literally zero Palestinian leaders who endorse peace while blaming Israel at the same time! What Palestinian supporter wouldn't use it?
Unfortunately, all this misses the point because it really isn't about the Pandelas. If Marwan Barghouti really was a Nelson Mandela or a Gandhi, pretty much by definition he would be somewhat well known by the common people and wouldn't let a little thing like being in prison stop him. The reason why he isn't well known isn't because of mean old Israel stifling him, but because his message is the same old genocidal Palsbara put in slightly different packaging.
What Palestinian supporters don't understand is the subtext. When people ask them "Where is the Palestinian Mandela?" what they are really asking is "You claim to be a national liberation movement, so why aren't you acting like one?" Palestinians go around the world and sell themselves as struggling for "freedom." They claim that all they want is to end the occupation and establish a state. But they keep running into problems because their leaders and people around the ground behave in an exact opposite fashion. The Palestinian people (unlike the South African blacks) aren't all that involved in the struggle. The Palestinian leadership wheels and deals about settlements, throwing up precondition after precondition so they don't have to concede anything, and seem no more interested in 'freedom' now than they did 60 years ago.
All of this is confusing because it is a mixed message. If all the Palestinians wanted was in fact to end the occupation and be free of the Israelis, then their leaders would not only proudly proclaim that to everyone but would happily accept a compromise that would let that happen. I'll use another example that is more akin to the Israeli-Palestinian situation: Many Irish people wanted all of Ireland to be liberated instead of partitioned between the State of Ireland and Northern Ireland. But they realized that compromising on that would get them what they wanted, which was to be free of British rule.
The reason why that won't work here is because of the aforementioned mixed message: the Palestinians don't merely want to end the occupation, they want to destroy Israel. And that is why no Pandela can ever exist, because a leader committed to (real) nonviolence and peace with Israel would be denounced as a traitor, a collaborator, and a "normalizer." He would either be marginalized, forced to travel elsewhere, or killed. As I said, the closest that the Palestinians can get are people at the fringes of Palestinian society with no political power, or snake oil salesman who claim to be committed to peace while hiding their true intentions.
People like Mandela are great men, and transformative, but they come as a result of a society that will accept their goals. Palestinian society just isn't there yet.