By SAÏDEH PAKRAVAN – September 3, 2010
As today Middle East peace talks (does one dare still call it that?) start once more in Washington, no doubt to quickly get mired in the usual sands of recrimination and rigidity of all participants, one could do worse than watch the sober and remarkably thrilling 2009 “Endgame” by Pete Travis about the secret negotiations that led to the release of Nelson Mandela, the legitimization of the ANC, and the end of apartheid.
This rare miraculous episode in contemporary human history is still one at which we shake our heads in disbelief and wonder. Knowing how it came to pass is an inspiration. In the 1980s, Thabo Mbeki (Chiwetel Ejiofor) for the ANC and Willie Esterhuyze (William Hurt) for the South African government, along with their small delegations, sat together time after time in an English countryside stately home to attempt to talk. Differences at first irreconcilable between an underground organization resorting to armed violence and a pompous white Afrikaner regime who believes its own survival lies in the continuous crushing of the black majority leads to first a gradual thaw on both sides, then to concessions, and finally to the extraordinary final result. Not that South Africa, after the presidency of Mbeki which followed that of Nelson Mandela (an admirable Clarke Peters) and those of their successors is a bed of roses. Indeed, it is today a violent state prey to assorted economic and political ills, not least high unemployment and an AIDS pandemic, but at least apartheid is gone. What it took to pull down that monstrously unjust system was a handful of men of good will who recognized that to prevent a looming civil war, they needed to set aside past history and start from scratch. Surely, the profound enmity and distrust and the completely opposed viewpoints and goals of the black leaders and the white elite of South Africa were not worse than those between Israelis and Palestinians. Or, to compare yet another situation, if the IRA was able to lay down its arms, if peace could return to Ireland, surely there’s hope for the Middle East.
The notes at the end of this excellent film say that indeed the IRA in their own negotiations asked the ANC for help and guidance. Another line adds that Hamas is also seeking their help, a perplexing comment as Hamas has not heretofore been known to want to negotiate. The point is moot as Hamas will not be sitting at that table in Washington, preferring to get its marching orders and its weapons from Iran. Gazans will continue to suffer restrictions and humiliation, settlements will increase, in the West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas remain quite powerless, Netanyahu sublimely arrogant, and Obama’s rapidly graying hair a testament to the fact that the Middle East is only one of the mountain of problems he faces daily. The heart—briefly uplifted by the possibilities evoked by this tremendous movie—sinks once more.