By recommending Marwan Barghouti for the Nobel Peace Prize, Archbishop Desmond Tutu made two mistakes: firstly, by comparing the struggle of the Palestinians to that of South Africa’s Blacks; secondly, by depicting Barghouti as a peace-loving freedom fighter.
The Dutch and British colonists in South Africa were the subjects of empires that sent them to settle foreign lands on their behalf. The Jews who resettled in their historic homeland at the end of the nineteenth century did so to gain the rights and the freedom they were denied in their host countries. They were not sent by powers; they fled powerlessness. The Blacks in South Africa were indigenous. The Arabs of the Ottoman Sanjaks of Jerusalem and Beirut were themselves former colonizers: they came from Arabia, and in the 7th century conquered Jerusalem from the Byzantines. Under Ottoman rule, there was no Palestine: this Latin word was chosen by the Romans after they destroyed the Province of Judea in 135 CE, and it was reintroduced by the League of Nations with the dismembering of the Ottoman Empire in 1922.
The Mandates established by the League on Nations (roughly along the lines of the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement) were artificial: there were no Iraqi, Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian peoples, but Arabs (many of them nomads), Kurds, Jews and other populations that became separated by new borders designed by Britain and France. In British Palestine, both Arabs and Jews were under foreign rule and both aspired to statehood. Precisely because the two nations had competing and incompatible claims over the same territory, partition was proposed by the Peel Commission in 1937 and by the United Nations (UN) in 1947. In both instances, the Jewish leadership accepted partition and the Arab leadership rejected it.
The UN plan of 1947 proposed the partition of British Palestine between a “Jewish state” and an “Arab state” (and not of a “Palestinian state” since no one had ever heard of a Palestinian people at the time). Six Arab armies attacked the newly proclaimed State of Israel to prevent the implementation of the UN proposal. The 1949 armistice agreements partitioned the former British Mandate de facto, though not along the lines proposed by the UN. This de facto partition was between Israel, Egypt, and Jordan. Rather than establishing a “Palestinian state” in the territories they had conquered from the former British Mandate, and which they controlled for eighteen years (between 1949 and 1967), Jordan and Egypt kept those territories for themselves (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, respectively).
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was established in 1964, three years before Israel took control of the West Bank and of the Gaza Strip. What the PLO meant by “liberation” was the elimination of pre-1967 Israel. Its purpose was not to implement partition, but to undo it. Only in 1988 did Yassir Arafat equivocally endorse, for the first time, the principle of partition. When he was offered a state on 92% of the West Bank in July 2000 by Ehud Barak and on 96% of the West Bank in December 2000 by Bill Clinton, he said no. As for Mahmoud Abbas, he did not respond to an even more far-reaching offer by Ehud Olmert in September 2008.
So blaming Israel, and Israel alone, for the Palestinians’ statelessness flies in the face of historical facts and of intellectual integrity. As for Marwan Barghouthi, is he fighting for a two-state solution or for the elimination of Israel? Here again, Archbishop Tutu should check his facts.
Barghouti has declared many times (e.g. in a statement issued on May 15, 2014) that there shall be no peace with Israel without the “right of return.” What the Palestinians mean by the “right of return” is that the descendants from the 700,000 Palestinians refugees of 1948 (which UNWRA estimates at 5 million today) should be entitled to become Israeli residents and citizens. Besides having no basis in international law and no precedent in history, such a “right” is incompatible with the two-state solution, since its implementation would turn pre-1967 Israel into a binational state with an Arab majority. In a two-state model, each nation-state absorbs its own refugees, just as Israel did with many of the 900,000 Jewish refugees expelled from Arab and Muslim countries in the 1950s. Clearly, Barghouti’s struggle continues to deny the Jews’ right to their own nation-state.
Barghouti was the leader of the military wing of the Al-Aqsa Brigades, which carried out thousands of deadly attacks (including suicide bombings) against Israeli civilians. These deadly attacks included the murder of a Greek Orthodox monk on June 12, 2001; the murder of six Israelis during a bar-mitzvah celebration on January 7, 2002; the murder of three Israelis in a shooting spree at a Tel-Aviv restaurant on March 5, 2002. Barghouti was also directly responsible for operating the terrorist cell of Raed Karmi in Tulkarem, which carried out many deadly attacks against Israeli civilians.
As Alan Bauer, the victim of a terrorist attack masterminded by Barghouti, wrote to President Obama in March 2014: “We cannot re-wind the clock and make the injuries and suffering disappear; the one thing we can do is to pursue justice and to do everything in our power to prevent terrorists from striking again.” Archbishop Tutu would be well-advised to ponder those words.