Jerusalem fumes as South Africa hosts Hamas chiefs

Foreign Ministry summons deputy ambassador for dressing-down after Jacob Zuma hosts Khaled Mashaal in Johannesburg

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Hamas officials at a press conference with officials of South Africa's ANC party, in Pretoria on Monday, October 19, 2015 (screen capture: YouTube)
Hamas officials at a press conference with officials of South Africa's ANC party, in Pretoria on Monday, October 19, 2015 (screen capture: YouTube)

South Africa’s ruling party on Sunday hosted a senior delegation of Hamas leaders in Pretoria, drawing bitter condemnations from the Israeli government and local Jewish groups.

The delegation, which was still in South Africa on Monday afternoon, is headed by the leader of Hamas’s political bureau, Khaled Mashaal. It got a friendly reception Sunday In Johannesburg from senior officials of the African National Congress, including President Jacob Zuma, in what ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe termed an example of “party to party relations.”

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem expressed “shock and outrage,” and on Monday summoned South Africa’s deputy ambassador “for a reprimand,” ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon said.

The ANC’s invitation to Hamas “provided a tailwind for terrorism and blatantly and crudely ignored the position of the international community, which considers Hamas a terror organization,” Nahshon fumed.

The Hamas delegation, which also included Mashaal’s deputy Moussa Abu Marzouk, was welcomed at the airport by the ANC’s deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte, according to a senior ANC official. “It is to demonstrate that the African National Congress is willing to talk to all people who are positive in terms of their attainment of self-determination and nationhood in Palestine,” the official told SABC News.

Mantashe, the ANC secretary-general, said Monday that his party has signed a “letter of intent” with Hamas. “We have an intention of building a long-lasting relationship,” he said at a press conference with Mashaal, calling the delegation’s visit “very important.”

According to a Twitter feed affiliated with the ANC, Mashaal said during the Monday press conference that his organization opposes the “killing of innocent people,” but also called for a struggle against Israel. “We are insisting with our people to finish this apartheid regime. This racist occupation should be put to an end,” Mashaal was quoted as saying.

The South African Zionist Federation “condemns in the strongest terms possible the fact that a delegation representing the Hamas Central Committee will be visiting South Africa as the honored guests of the ruling party,” a statement by the group read.

“During these past few weeks of barbaric violence targeting Israel, Hamas has enthusiastically endorsed the cold-blooded murder of Israeli civilians and instigated dozens of lethal attacks against them,” the statement continued.

The African National Congress has long been supportive of the Palestinians’ struggle against Israel and exceedingly critical of Israeli policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

“Contrary to what is claimed, the ideology, values, aims and strategies of Hamas are diametrically opposed to the principles of the ANC, as embodied in the Freedom Charter,” the ZF declares in the statement.

At a recent summit, the ANC party reaffirmed its support for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Hamas, by contrast, does not support, nor has it ever supported, the creation of an independent Palestinian state co-existing in peace alongside Israel. Instead, its charter explicitly stipulates that no negotiated settlement is possible in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians with Jihad being the only solution,” the ZF statement read. “Simply speaking, Hamas wishes to destroy Israel altogether and seeks to establish an Islamist dictatorship in its place.”

The only justification for meeting with Hamas would be to seek to “radically” moderate the organization, the ZF’s chairman, Ben Swartz, and president, Avrom Krengel, wrote. If that’s not the purpose of the meeting, “then any such engagement will simply prove both futile and counter-productive to genuine efforts aimed at the peaceful resolution of the conflict.”

Last year, South Africa’s ambassador to Israel, Sisa Ngombane, expressed a keen desire to improve ties with the Jewish state, but defended his government’s mostly pro-Palestinian stance, calling for talks with Hamas and comparing the situation in the West Bank with that of apartheid-era South Africa.

While the South African government urges Hamas to abandon violence and look for ways to coexist with Israel, Ngombane told The Times of Israel he still considers Hamas “a national liberation movement” rather than a terrorist organization.

“Hamas is the product of Palestinians wanting a better life,” he said, adding that in apartheid-era South Africa he was called a terrorist himself. “Being called a terrorist doesn’t make you a terrorist,” he said, adding that Hamas has to “graduate” and realize that armed resistance will not bring freedom. Rather, he said, Hamas must “sit down and negotiate.”

read more: