Palestinians can learn from Martin McGuinness – peace is possible

There are powerful parallels to be drawn between the transformation of an IRA terrorist turned peacemaker and the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Martin McGuinness, who died this week, was a cold-blooded killer, whose journey from gunman to statesman saw him shake hands with the Queen and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Ian Paisley.

For all his sins, he proved peace is possible between sworn enemies. That tragedy and hate, even in the most entrenched conflict, does not need to be the status quo.

That even those who resort to violence to achieve their aims can harbour hope for compromise.

Like the IRA, Palestinian leaders opt for what they know best – bloodshed. Their hostility runs so deep they’re even prepared to kill themselves if it means Jews die too.

This entrenched animosity must be wiped out for peace to take root.

Martin McGuinness: swords into ploughshares
Martin McGuinness: swords into ploughshares

To achieve this, a Palestinian leader must emerge who fosters an atmosphere of hope and views the promise of a state as the fulfillment of a dream rather than a sell-out to Zionists.

He must tackle decades of prejudice and reeducate his followers to respect human life.

The damage was done on Yasser Arafat’s watch. He had almost 40 years as the sole figurehead of the Palestinian cause to prove himself worthy of that title – he failed. Or rather, made no attempt to succeed.

Arafat knew only one monstrous tactic. Time and again, he refused to fulfil his promise to achieve the “peace of the brave.” Instead, he and his regime took the easy, evil, option.

Does a Palestinian exist, capable of leading his people towards a new destiny?

If he does, he will come from left field. Those mooted as possible successors to Mahmoud Abbas, when the first elections since 2005 finally take place, are the usual suspects – Yasser Arafat’s cousin Nasser al-Qudwa, technocrat Mohammad Shtayyeh, intelligence chief Majid Farraj and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.

The only politician thought capable of uniting Gaza and Ramallah – Hamas and Fatah – and therefore able to carry a popular mandate, is convicted murderer Marwan Barghouti, currently languishing in jail – a place many fairly feel McGuinness should have spent most of his life.

The ringleaders of perhaps the world’s deepest and most depressing conflict might learn a long overdue lesson from the conversion of Martin McGuinness. That there is another way. A peaceful way.

That after Abbas, there need not be another abyss.

About the Author
Richard has been editor of Jewish News since 2009. He is one of Britain's leading Jewish voices, writing for The Times, Independent, New Statesman and many other titles. Richard previously worked at the Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, edited the Boston Jewish Advocate and created the Channel 4 TV series Jewish Mum Of The Year. In July 2022 he was named one of “39 People Making Waves in the Jewish Media Sphere” by the website Future of Jewish.
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