Those of us who are opposed to the jihads of Hamas and Hezbollah as well as the excesses of the Israeli responses thereto have lamented the lack of a presence of a Ghandi or MLK figure in the region. There have been such figures, but unfortunately they don’t live very long. There was Anwar Al-Sadat, who negotiated with President Carter’s help a peace between Israel and Egypt that has been sustained for nearly three decades. He was of course assassinated just a couple of years later, and lest we compare him too favorably with the figures above, he was in the process of a crackdown against intellectuals of all stripes at the time. Still, he did make some progressive movement in a very medievalesque climate.
There was another figure – a leader in the PLO – lost in history who might have made a huge difference had he been allowed to live. Even educated folk I know aren’t familiar with him. I read about him during my first year of college, when he was assassinated. His name was Dr. Issam Sartawi. He was killed in Portugal in 1983 while attending a meeting of the Socialist International. I knew a woman who was a hard leftist in most respects, but also profoundly Zionist in defiance of the political culture of UC Santa Cruz at the time. We lived in a communal endeavor together and had already had some very intense arguments about Israel/Palestine. She was a year ahead of me, and had already become very defensive by the time I arrived, on the tail-end of the last Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Sartawi was killed during the spring quarter and I expected indifference based on what seemed to be her blanket rejection of any redeeming qualities of the PLO. Instead she was saddened and asked rhetorically “Why him?”
I would later learn that he was largely responsible for bringing the PLO to the negotiating table with Israel and had received international recognition for his efforts. This took him out of favor with Abu Nudal‘s band of crazies, and they killed him, probably silencing for years whatever moderate figures remained in the PLO at the time.
As a mostly unreconstructed leftist, I don’t often subscribe to what we have referred to as the “great man” theory of history. But I believe there are moments when individuals do make huge differences in the course of history, and there are certain individuals who show that potential. It could be argued that even what is left of the “peace process” between Israel and Palestine would not have been possible without his initial efforts. He made it very clear that economic development of Palestine was a must for enduring peace, commenting in reference to international soccer: “There will be no peace until the team of Israel plays against the team of Palestine – and we win.” A few details of his efforts can be found in the Wikipedia link above.
As noted the link above he also helped to establish the Palestine Red Crescent Society. In 1998, he received recognition within Israel with the creation of the Issam Sartawi Center for the Advancement of Peace and Democracy at Al-Quds University, an Arab University in Jerusalem.
I think it’s safe to conclude that the combination of Arabic heritage and leadership qualities for peace endeavors is not particularly conducive to the perpetuation of any genetic line, and is therefore not being selected for at the moment. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen.