Museveni’s Palestine blunder that wasn’t
Museveni’s Palestine blunder that wasn’t

Prime Minister Netanyahu has just concluded a tour of four African countries in what the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has qualified as a "historic" visit.

Among the countries included in the tour was Uganda, where, as part of the festivities celebrating 40 years since the Israeli rescue mission at Entebbe, Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, gave a speech.

The speech made repeated references to Israel and Palestine and was met with dismay, bewilderment and downright criticism by a variety of observers, including the Israeli delegation.

Le Monde classified the speech as "absurd" and wrote that it peddled in "strange comparisons." CCTV thought that Museveni "repeatedly confused Israel and Palestine". ThisIsAfrica called the speech "awkward." Times of Israel remarked that Museveni’s words do "not seem related to Palestine, but instead to Israel" and went on to call them a "mistake.". Arutz Sheva called the speech "bonkers."

The supposed "mistake" was in turn attributed to Museveni’s old age or qualified as an insult to PM Netanyahu.

Museveni’s speech made numerous and consistent references to a unitary mass of land he called the Holy Land / Israel / Palestine.

But while Museveni refers - perhaps confusingly - to one land by two interchangeable names, he is crystal clear in referring to the people who inhabit this land as "the Jews" and "the Arabs" and does not mention, even once, a people called the "Palestinians."

In doing so, Museveni removes, in one stroke, both the false claim to distinct peoplehood of Arabs who live in Israel / Palestine as the artificially constructed notion of  the "Palestinians" and of the Islamic origins of the conflict, seeming to imply it is a fratricide conflict over land rather than a religious one.

Importantly, Museveni argues that the Jews "came from Palestine, that’s where the Jews have « a historical claim." On this basis, he continued, he argued the legitimacy of Jewish statehood in Palestine to "his friends the Arabs and the Iranians."

And if this is applied "from the river to the sea" it squarely calls for the recognition of the legitimacy of Jews living throughout and without discrimination in whatever the administrative entity recognised by the UN as a non-member state  (non-member but state nonetheless? - however improbably it meets the Montevideo criteria for statehood) really is or will, if ever, be.

Museveni then argues that there is no comparison between the situation in South Africa and the apartheid past there and the situation in Palestine and mentions that the false comparison is promoted in UN fora by Western countries, fact he finds so boring he pretends / prefers to sleep when this issue is brought up.

Finally, by conceiving one unitary historical land mass but calling for two states, Museveni points - perhaps wanting in clarity but still effectively - to the intrinsic difficulty of separating into two workable states a singular geographical, cultural and historical region.

Museveni did not commit any blunder and is perfectly clear about his view on Israel/ Palestine. His view welcomely misses out on the fallacy of a "Palestinian people" and settles the issue  - perhaps hastily - as a land dispute, and so no different than other land disputes and so deserving less waste of valued resources when other conflicts, far bigger and bloody, require the attention of the world.

Perhaps, indeed, Israel should heed President Museveni’s offer to mediate the conflict as this might bring in a much needed common sense.