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South Africa takes Palestinian side, supports BDS

A Hamas parliamentary delegation has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the African National Congress during a visit to South Africa — an achievement as far as relations between the two parties are concerned.
Hama chief Khaled Meshaal (C) addresses a media briefing at the headquarters of South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) in Johannesburg, October 19, 2015. Meshaal and a delegation from Palestine are in South Africa at the invitation of the ANC. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko  - GF10000250928

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The parliamentary delegation of Hamas’ Change and Reform Bloc concluded its official visit to South Africa Dec. 6 after signing a memorandum of understanding with the African National Congress (ANC), the ruling parliamentary bloc in South Africa.

The delegation, headed by Mahmoud al-Zahar, held a number of meetings with governmental, civil and legal institutions, during which means of supporting the Palestinian cause were discussed. Head of the ANC Jackson Mthembu declared his country’s support for the Palestinian people’s right to freedom and condemned the Israeli actions against the Palestinians.

The parliamentary visit comes after Egypt agreed Nov. 21 that Hamas officials use the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian-Palestinian border following its five-year near constant closure into Egypt.

On Nov. 27, South Africa disinvited Israeli researchers from an academic conference — "Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation" — at the University of Stellenbosch. Seven academics from three Israeli universities were supposed to take part in the conference on Dec. 5-9. According to Haaretz, supporters of the Israeli boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement said the Nationality Law was the reason the invitation was withdrawn, as the law grants Jews alone the right to self-determination in the country.

The bill, which was passed by the Israeli government in July, came in clear violation of the rights of the Palestinian minority, which accounts for around 20% of the population in Israel.

Bassem Naim, a member of Hamas’ international relations bureau, told Al-Monitor that the visit sought to rally support for the Palestinian cause and highlight the suffering of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip as a result of the Israeli siege that has been ongoing for 13 years now. He stressed that the outcome of the visit is deemed as an achievement as far as the relationship between the two parties is concerned.

“A memorandum of understanding was signed between Hamas and the African National Congress. This memorandum focuses on the exchange of visits between the two parties and seeks to spread the latest developments related to the Palestinian cause, find ways to support the cause, organize supporting activities in various regions in South Africa and mobilize the international community against the Israeli violations committed against the Palestinians,” he said.

Naim noted that the party explained to the delegation that South Africa decided to reduce its diplomatic representation with Israel and take steps to facilitate the entry of Palestinians into South Africa.

Ever since Hamas won the legislative elections in 2006, he said, it has been seeking to keep the international community posted on developments related to the cause in a bid to garner its support. South Africa, he said, is one of the countries that chose to support the Palestinian people, especially in view of the common points between the current Palestinian situation and the South African situation before the apartheid system ended in 1994.

Naim said that the gains Hamas managed to reap from its international relations are gains for the Palestinian people as a whole, not just Hamas. Asked if the visit discussed any economic projects or financial support, he said its goal was merely aimed at achieving diplomatic gains.

Hamza Abu Shanab, a political analyst close to Hamas, told Al-Monitor that relations between Hamas and South Africa started when Hamas won the elections. However, they were not developed at the time. South Africa subsequently played a role in the release of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, who was kidnapped by Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) in Gaza in 2007, as it called for the release of Islamist prisoners held in British prisons. The turning point in the relations between the two parties, he said, came in 2015, when then-head of Hamas' political bureau Khaled Meshaal visited South Africa for the first time.

“Relations with South Africa derive their importance from the wide influence that South Africa has as a country,” Abu Shanab said.

Asked about South Africa's vote against the US resolution condemning Hamas at the United Nations General Assembly Dec. 6, he said that South Africa cannot diverge from the international system that favors a two-state solution.

The resolution condemns the use of rockets on the part of Hamas and Islamic Jihad against Israel and calls for Palestinian reconciliation.

“There is a state of African sympathy for Hamas and the Palestinian cause, but there is also an international political level of support that South Africa cannot go beyond,” Abu Shanab noted.

He stressed that Hamas is seeking to mobilize political support, all the while opening up to Western countries, and pointed out that the European opposition to Hamas has been recently decreasing.

While South Africa, he added, is not likely to support Hamas financially, it is likely to support it in political forums and play a role in the Palestinian cause.

Maamoun Abu Amer, a Palestinian journalist focusing on Israeli affairs, told Al-Monitor that disinviting the Israeli researchers comes within the context of the BDS movement, which has been recently expanding and embarrassing Israel internationally. Also, he said, South Africa supports the establishment of a Palestinian state and denounces the Israeli settlement activities.

Abu Amer stressed that following the adoption of the Nationality Law, Israel made it look as if nationalism was related to a race, not a people, which is contrary to the basic principles of democracy. Israel consequently took on a racist character, and this further led South Africa to reject the Israeli researchers’ participation in the conference. He said the Israeli government is not likely to back down on the Nationality Law except if faced with an international boycott.

Hamas, he explained, is welcomed and represented in South Africa, which is a strong state and a crucial diplomatic arena given the contacts it has with European and African states.

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