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By Lunga Simelane

Journalist


SA’s support for Palestine: Does it equate to backing Hamas?

In the midst of the Gaza-Israel conflict, South Africa's stance on Palestine is scrutinized for its potential support of Hamas.


Today marks 13 days of war between Gaza and Israel and questions are being asked if South Africa’s support for the Palestinian people is not tacit support for Hamas, which governs the tiny country.

International Relations and Cooperation Minister Dr Naledi Pandor came under fire from Israel and its supporters after a phone call she had with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh – with her critics interpreting that discussion as being support for what is by many regarded as a terrorist organisation.

The department was forced to deny explicitly that she had voiced her support for “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood”, the Hamas codeword for the incursion into Israel on 7 October, in which more than 1 400 Israelis, mostly civilians, were killed and scores of hostages taken back into Gaza by the retreating insurgents.

In retaliation, Israel, in cross-border raids, launched attacks on Hamas-controlled Gaza for the thousands of Israelis kidnapped and killed. Late on Tuesday, a blast ripped through the Gaza Ahli Arab hospital, killing hundreds of people.

It was later revealed the phone conversation between Pandor and Haniyeh was a discussion involving humanitarian aid for Gaza.

People may think SA support Hamas

Pandor reiterated South Africa’s solidarity and support for the people of Palestine and expressed sadness and regret for the loss of innocent lives, both Palestinians and Israelis.

She and the ANC have been consistent in its expressions of support for the Palestinian people as a whole and have avoided showing favour for one Palestinian group over another.

But, according to one analyst, the fact that the SA government had failed to adequately criticise Hamas’ atrocities and instead concentrated on Israel’s response, may have led people to think it supports Hamas.

Political and economy analyst Daniel Silke said this “actually suggests that South Africa is more likely to agree with the Hamas position”.

Although the SA government had correctly spoken about the rights of Palestine and the need for an independent Palestinian state, it was important to criticise Hamas’ activities and the suffering which had been brought also to the Palestinian people, he said.

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“That’s the point to make. South Africa’s position is actually highly contradictory in how Pandor is currently analysing the situation,” he said.

South Africa had constantly called for a two-state solution, which would be the better option, but it was difficult to have a two-state solution with Hamas in control of Gaza and their stated intention the destruction of the state of Israel, Silke said.

“You can’t really have a two-state solution. Israel certainly wouldn’t consider Hamas an independent Palestinian state controlled by a political party that wants to destroy Israel.

“South Africa really failed to really understand that and to express that distinction.

“It’s about having a Palestinian state that is a democratic state and does not call for the destruction of its own neighbour.”

Important to remember Hamas not the only political party

Prof Jo-Ansie van Wyk, University of South Africa political science lecturer and researcher, said although Hamas was the ruling party in the Palestinian Authority, it was important to remember it was not the only political party.

According to Van Wyk, the Palestinian Authority had a number of political parties and when Pandor spoke to Hamas, it meant she was speaking to a ruling party.

Van Wyk said South Africa had always supported the Palestinian cause and trodden “very carefully not to anger both sides”.

“The ANC has adopted resolutions before of reconsidering its ties with Israel, which it regards as an apartheid state, but that resolution of the ANC conference has not been followed through in policy because of the realities of international politics. South Africa will alienate not only Jews or Israelis in the country, but also a state in the Middle East,” she said.

“South Africa likes to say that we have an independent, autonomous, non-aligned foreign policy that’s based on progressive internationalism and solidarity with peoples (who) are under colonialism of whatever sort and that have had a strong ideological alignment with the ANC.

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“These historical ties are very important and we must take that into consideration.

“The government is very careful in being seen as engaging with a terrorist organisation, although Hamas declares itself as a liberation movement,” said Van Wyk.

“And that, of course, is an aspect that South Africa’s government can associate with.

“So, the minister is effectively speaking on behalf of South Africans, too.”

Hamas, officially the Islamic Resistance Movement, is a Sunni Islamist political and military organisation governing the Gaza Strip of the Palestinian territories.

Control over region was complex

Today, Palestine, a state whose legal status was subject of controversy, includes the West Bank, a territory which sits between Israel and Jordan and the Gaza Strip, which borders Israel and Egypt.

However, control over this region was a complex and evolving situation.

In 2006, Hamas won the last election and started administering Gaza.

It took full control after a brief civil war the following year.

More than 135 United Nations member countries recognised Palestine as an independent state, but Israel and some other countries, including the United States, do not make this distinction.

ALSO READ: ‘Day of rage’: Fury as Gaza hospital blast kills hundreds

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