During the presidency of Nelson Mandela, enormous pressure was applied on South Africa to distance itself from those the Western world described as “terrorists or sponsors of terrorism”. Embracing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Libya’s Muammar Khaddafi as supporters of our liberation struggle, he rather correctly told the American president to “jump into the lake”, rather than pander to the whims of the big powers.
South Africa then occupied the moral high ground, and threats to the economy did not deter him from supporting a just cause, particularly against countries violating international law and UN resolutions namely, the USA, Britain and Israel.
South Africa has continued to play a critical role to articulate the dilemmas facing the “third world” at various international forums such as the United Nations, G8 summits and economic conferences, without fear or favour. Particularly vexing for South Africa currently are foreign policy issues such as Iran’s nuclear fuel enrichment and Palestine.
A free and fair democratic election brought the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, into government, to the consternation of the Western world. Israel, the USA and the European Union set about isolating the Palestinians by imposing a policy of starvation and blocking off all economic aid to the region.
South Africa, on the contrary, congratulated the Palestinians and Hamas on their victory. Just as it bravely led the condemnation of the Israeli wall annexing Palestinian land at the International Court of Justice, it has, thus far, resisted the call to isolate the newly-elected Palestinian government.
Intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils and Deputy foreign minister Aziz Pahad were due to meet with the leadership of Hamas in Gaza and Damascus, until an unexpected visit by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, scuttled the trip. President Thabo Mbeki announced that he would himself visit the region, cancelling the ministers’ visit.
There has been a great deal of speculation as to the cause of the abrupt change of plans. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert subsequently announced that Israel will not meet with anyone associating with Hamas. Whilst still officially on track to visit the region, including Hamas, a JTA report casts doubt on the visit.
Moira Schneider, a correspondent for the JTA and the local Jewish Report, wrote in a piece headlined: “South African Jewish leaders optimistic after Mbeki vows not to meet Hamas”. In it she writes: “Following pressure from the community, South Africa’s president promised Jewish leaders that he would not meet with Hamas members.”
It was further stated that: “… Mbeki told the group that he had decided not to meet with Hamas members, but would meet with others in the Palestinian Authority and with Israeli officials.”
Has President Thabo Mbeki succumbed to the combined pressure from Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), Ehud Olmert and the SA Jewish Board of Deputies?
The Apartheid SA regime, supported by the very countries opposing Hamas, attempted to marginalize the ANC, by promoting corrupt Bantustan leaders as the oppressed peoples’ legitimate representatives. Money, arms and the red-carpet treatment were accorded to these fraudulent Bantustan leaders, whilst the genuine leaders languished in prison, in exile or were underground.
Mahmoud Abbas, in his two years as Palestinian president, has accomplished nothing but derision from the Israelis. Both Prime minister Olmert and Livni, the foreign minister, described Abbas as “irrelevant” and “powerless”. For the Palestinians, he has not even recovered one square centimetre of land, produced no negotiations, settlements or agreements –” absolutely nothing of substance.
This is, in fact, exactly the type of president Israel wants, a subservient, ineffective bureaucrat who gets his marching orders from Israel and poses no threat to its territorial ambitions. His purpose would be to protect the Zionist occupiers and oppressors of the Palestinians and, at the same time, destabilize the newly elected Palestinian government.
Intensive efforts to cripple and torpedo the new Palestinian government by Israel, the United States of America and the European Union, by imposing a policy of economic starvation and fuelling a civil war, may be bearing fruit. Abbas’ role is evident when he stated: “The constitution gives me clear and definite authority to remove a government from power”. This can only serve Israel’s interest.
When Yasser Arafat refused to grovel to the Israelis, they complained that they “had no peace partner”. Arafat was condemned to years of misery imprisoned in Ramallah surrounded by Israeli tanks and cut off from the outside world, yet heroically refused to placate the Israelis.
Abbas should demand Israel’s immediate withdrawal from the occupied territories and to defend the elected government of Palestine. Instead, he insists that Hamas gives up the right to resist the occupation, recognise the racist entity “Israel” and uphold “all previous agreements”, including Oslo and the Roadmap, which Israel itself has repudiated.
The ANC did not give up the right to wage an armed struggle until freedom was achieved; did not recognize South Africa to exist as an Apartheid state until all discriminatory laws terminated; and rejected all agreements signed by the corrupt Bantustan leaders with the Apartheid regime. With what conviction can we ask others to do what we ourselves rejected?
It was Bishop Tutu who said that the mouse will not appreciate one’s neutrality if an elephant has its foot on the mouse’s tail. Given our own history, South Africa cannot ignore the desperate pleas of the long-suffering Palestinians and claim the moral high ground. By refusing to meet with the entire leadership of Hamas, we will disgracefully side with the Israeli occupiers, to our eternal shame.