Not only Israelis but Palestinians, too, must learn the lessons of South Africa. The struggle of the black population focused on one issue: universal vote. Nelson Mandela’s demand for “one person, one vote” was more than a slogan, it was a strategic goal. It became reality on April 27th, 19 years ago, when the first multiracial elections were held. Ever since, democracy has been safeguarded, elections are held regularly and the new constitution is upheld and guides this state, despite its hardships and complexities.
South Africans have proved that the impossible is possible; that the dream of the majority and the nightmare of the minority can be translated into a new language. That hatred, threats and fears can be replaced by a reality of hope. Mandela, yesterday’s ‘terrorist,’ and his ‘terror organization,” the African National Congress, managed to quell the fears of the white population.
It was probably the most important step in their struggle, which was managed with full awareness of the limitations of their power. They understood that violence would lead them nowhere, that the regime was stronger, and that reckless terror would lead to the loss of essential international support. The ANC limited its use of force. This is an important lesson the Palestinians should consider.
Of no less importance was the dissidents’ unity. The Palestinians, so far, have failed on that score. But the most important factor in South Africa’s success was the agreed-upon goal – one person, one vote. It is about time the Palestinians adopt this goal. It is time for them to understand that the two-state dream is becoming impossible. That the occupation is stronger than them, that the settlements are already too large and that the Palestinian state, even if established, will be no more than a group of Bantustans separated by the “settlement blocs” that grew to monstrous proportions and have won consensus approval from Israelis and the international community.
It is time, dear Palestinians, to change strategy. Not to fight the occupation or the settlements; they’re here to stay. It is time to follow the South African example and demand one basic right: one person, one vote.
This demand will scare Israelis at least as much as it scared the South African whites. The Israelis will scream, and not unjustly, that this would be the end of Zionism and the Jewish state. But Israel brought this upon itself with the occupation, and the South African experience has taught us that yesterday’s fears can soon disappear: that through an efficient constitution and wise conduct, everybody’s rights and identity can be safeguarded. In any case, ethnic states, consisting purely of one race or nationality, are on their way out in the new interconnected world. And this world cannot remain indifferent to the basic demand of one person, one vote; no one can possibly refuse such a basic right of every human being.
Focusing on this demand will disarm Israel of all its excuses. What can it say? That the Palestinians aren’t human? That they don’t have rights like any other nation? Not every nation has a state, but every person has the right to vote. Palestinians do not have voting rights in the state that determines their fate. Theirs must be a struggle for this right without criminal violence, such as the terror of the second intifada. Such a struggle will attract international support by peoples and governments. Nobody, apart from the Israelis, could possibly oppose it. Israelis will be forced to reexamine their values, beliefs, and all the sacred truths and red lines they invented. Israelis will be forced to admit that for some time now theyhave been living in one state, but it is shadowed by a form of apartheid.
Once this happens, there are only two possibilities: Either the Palestinians will succeed as Mandela did to calm people’s fears, and the all-Israeli nightmare of the one-democratic-state solution will make way for the promise of a bright future; or Israelis will finally come to their senses and hasten to withdraw from all the occupied territories and allow, at virtually the last moment, the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. There is no other just possibility for a solution of the conflict.