Today's date:
Summer 2008

Negotiate With Hamas

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is the former Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 in honor of his campaign of nonviolent resistance to South Africa's apartheid regime. In 2007, Archbishop Tutu was appointed chair of the Elders, a group of distinguished leaders convened to confront some of the world's most pressing problems. He was recently interviewed by Michael Jaskiw and Linda Li, co-editors-in-chief of the Harvard International Review.

NPQ | How can lessons from South Africa be applied in determining the optimal course of action to be taken in Israel-Palestine?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu | In the current situation that we have in the Middle East we are seeing a blatant violation of international law, which prohibits the targeting of civilians. Hamas fires Qassam rockets into Siderot, something which we deplore and condemn. But equally we condemn the targeting of innocent civilians, as has happened in the reprisal attacks from Israel. International humanitarian law prohibits such attacks. We will see that peace will ultimately come only when the opposing sides sit down to negotiate.

In South Africa, the apartheid government for a long time said it would not negotiate with the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela's party. And it refused to talk to Mandela, even in jail, until he foreswore the use of violence. In turn, Mandela refused to talk to the government because he claimed that the violence of uprising had been brought on by the violence of apartheid.

We learned that peace comes only when bitter adversaries sit down to negotiate. It is not valid for one side to choose who represents the opposing side. Negotiations must occur between authentic leaders or representatives of the conflicting groups. The apartheid government often tried to select those it found congenial as spokespersons for the black community; and the black community rejected them as stooges because they wanted to be represented by their own.

We in South Africa were faced with the possibility of carnage. People were predicting that we were going to have a bloodbath, but it did not occur, because people sat down with those who had been their enemies. Often, all we need is to recognize that an enemy is actually a friend waiting to be made.

NPQ | Do you believe that negotiations can successfully resolve the crisis in Darfur?

Tutu | Absolutely. Negotiations will provide the ultimate and only resolution to that particular problem. It is not going to be resolved by fighting. The north and the south recognize that. After about 30 years of civil war, it was only when they sat down that they were able to achieve the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. And the negotiations occurred among people who hated each other like nothing on earth, on both sides. Though they were not friendly to each other in the least, they came to a point where they had fought themselves to a standstill, and the only way out of that deadlock was by sitting and talking. The key question is, why should we take so long to do the inevitable?

NPQ | What should be done on an international scale to combat modern slavery in the form of forced labor and human trafficking, which so often targets the most vulnerable among the world's children?

Tutu | As you can imagine, a number of these problems are interconnected. First is the fact that the children who become victims of abduction and human trafficking come mostly, if not exclusively, from families that are poor. It is their poverty that makes them vulnerable. Child laborers emerge from the same impoverished section of society. It is my belief that, until we can eradicate the glaring inequities of the world economic system, until we can eradicate poverty—as has been the aim of the Make Poverty History campaign—we will always find that we are caught on the back foot. Vulnerability very often stems from indigence.

We therefore have a long-term strategy and a short-term strategy. The short-term strategy is creating more effective policy to ensure that people do not get away with their poor treatment of children. But underneath it all is recognizing that children are human beings who have undeniable, inalienable rights.

NPQ | How is gender equality, or lack thereof, in impoverished countries related to efforts at poverty alleviation and economic development?

Tutu | Women tend to be the most marginalized of the marginalized. In fact, they also turn out to be those who possess the greatest initiative. It has been found that in almost every case, if you invest in women, they do not default. So they are a very safe investment. This conclusion is a keystone of Muhammad Yunus' Grameen Bank, which has repeatedly demonstrated its effectiveness in empowering the most disadvantaged, the most disenfranchised—women.

NPQ | How can the education of women be integrated into the economic development of a state?

Tutu | It is clear that educating young girls, who are the potential mothers of the future, enhances the possibilities of development in a community. I do not know why we fail to realize that women have a resilience that men simply do not have. They have an uncanny capacity for sharing and for cooperation. Indeed, in one of our languages, a woman is said to be able to share even the eye of the fly.

There is another crucial capacity that is peculiar to women—namely, that maternal instinct that enables a woman to face up to any danger in order to protect her own. So we are actually very shortsighted in our discrimination against women. Discrimination is a self-defeating strategy in itself; we are hitting ultimately at ourselves by disempowering women.

NPQ | What is the potential influence of women in positions of political leadership?

Tutu | I think that, at times, people involved in the pro-women movement have gone over the top in equating women to men, which is often not an appropriate assumption. There are attributes that distinguish women from men. The attribute of nurturing, and the capacity to carry life, are not masculine attributes. They are peculiarly feminine.

I am saddened by suggestions that the true woman must constantly triumph over men, overtake men at the conventionally masculine pursuits. Yet we forget that this world has seen a great deal of trouble precisely because of the things we think of as the manly qualities: "A big boy does not cry." "You've got to be macho." In this context, we can recall former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher—the Iron Lady—who denigrated compassion, equating it to weakness.

The world is waiting for a time when women in leadership positions, particularly political leadership positions, contribute what are specifically feminine attributes. I am sure that, if that happens, we are going to see a great deal less war. I cannot myself imagine a woman, who had carried a baby in her womb for nine months, willingly turning that child into cannon fodder.

NPQ | Could having more women leaders influence the status of human rights in the world?

Tutu | Certainly, and I am hoping that we can demonstrate the positive effects of female leadership by pointing to people such as Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland. She was able to achieve success while maintaining the feminine perspective. Women possess the gift of intuition, that is, feeling something in your bones when you lack a rational account. Women have that so-called sixth sense, and we ought not to devalue it. We ought to hold up women and appreciate that gift.

NPQ | With regard to the establishment of peace and protection of human rights, what is the most vital lesson that South Africa's history can teach us?

Tutu | We discovered in South Africa that security, stability and peace do not emerge from the barrel of a gun. The apartheid government tried using brute force, and the liberation movement used military struggle to bring about its vision of South Africa. We ended up realizing that this was leading us into a cul-de-sac. Stability and peace came when the inalienable rights of all were recognized—the right to self-determination, the right to life.

© 2008 Harvard International Review/Nobel Laureates Plus