Palestinians Draw on Mandela Legacy for Inspiration

Palestinian leaders on Friday drew on the legacy of Nelson Mandela, a high-profile supporter of their cause, likening his fight against apartheid to their own struggle to end Israeli occupation.

Tributes to the late South African leader, whose death was announced Thursday, flooded in from Palestinian leaders.

Their tone was far more politicised than the eulogies of their Israeli counterparts, and came as US Secretary of State John Kerry wound up another mission aimed at boosting fragile peace talks.

"You said: 'We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians'," invoked jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghuti in an "open letter" to Mandela.

"And from within my prison cell, I tell you our freedom seems possible because you reached yours," wrote the man known by his people as "the Palestinian Mandela".

"You are more than an inspiration," he wrote from inside prison where he is serving five life sentences for attacks on Israeli targets.

"Apartheid did not prevail in South Africa, and apartheid shall not prevail in Palestine," he added.

Barghuti is widely believed to have masterminded the second Palestinian intifada that erupted in 2000. He was arrested in April 2002 and sentenced two years later.

Barghuti has since said he never supported attacks on civilians inside Israel and in recent years has thrown his support behind peaceful resistance.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was also quick to weigh in.

"This is a great loss for all the peoples of the world, and for Palestine," Abbas said, hailing a "symbol of freedom from colonialism and occupation."

"The Palestinian people will never forget his historic statement that the South African revolution will not have achieved its goals as long as the Palestinians are not free," he said.

The Palestinian commemorations focused more on Mandela's politics -- notably invoking his struggle against white minority rule in South Africa -- than the tributes from Israel's politicians.

Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Mandela as "a fighter for human rights" and a "man of vision and a freedom fighter who disavowed violence."

Mandela, who first visited Israel and the Palestinian territories in 1999, was an ardent supporter of the Palestinian cause and a champion for Middle East peace.

Mandela had said of late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat that he "was one of the outstanding freedom fighters of his generation ... It is with great sadness that one notes that his and his people's dream of a Palestinian state had not been realised."

Less warm relationship

Mandela's relationship with the Jewish state was less warm, with Israel being a South African ally during the apartheid era.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat on Friday quoted Mandela as saying: "Never in the darkest hours of South Africa's apartheid have there been separated roads for blacks and whites," in an allusion to West Bank highways for Israeli use but closed to Palestinians.

And across the West Bank-Gaza divide, the Islamist Hamas movement -- Abbas's bitter foe -- also eulogised Mandela.

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and remains a champion of the armed struggle against Israel despite a year-old Egyptian-brokered truce, paid tribute to a "great fighter".

Mandela was "one of the most important symbols of freedom and one of the most important supporters of the Palestinian people's cause," Hamas spokesman Mussa Abu Marzuq said.

Meanwhile, Kerry left Israel and the Palestinian territories after a 36-hour trip to try to breathe life into a stagnant Middle East peace process, urging leaders to take inspiration from Mandela in their negotiations.

"The naysayers are wrong to call peace in this region an impossible goal," Kerry said, before quoting Mandela: "It always seems impossible until it's done."

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