Hamas’s new policy document reminds what South Africa did right.

The long awaited Hamas policy document was unveiled in Doha, Qatar on 01 May 2017. The document presented a number of policy shifts from their long held political positions. The recognition of the 1967 boarder as the framework for the future Palestinian state, although transitional, is seen as the tacit acceptance by Hamas of a two state solution. This has brought a political convergence between political parties in Palestine. The packed press conference was led Khalid Mishal the outgoing leader of Hamas. Besides the policy changes, Hamas is also in the process of electing its new leadership. The expectations therefore were for the new leadership to present the new policy instead of Mishal. Why did Mishal present the policy document on the eve of his exit as the leader of the movement, was it a way of cementing a continued political legacy or was it a soft launch of his next role in the Palestinian politics? Mishal has steered Hamas over decades of challenging political upheavals. The assassinations of Sheik Ahmad Yassin on 22 March 2004 and a month later Dr. Abdelaziz Rantisi was one of the most challenging times for Hamas’s leadership. It was during that time that Mishal demonstrated leadership and established himself as the “undisputed leader” of the movement. Perhaps the most important test of his leadership was the decision for Gaza to separate from the West Bank after it was robbed of its electoral victory in January 2006. The separation of Gaza remains a thorny issue and one of the most important milestone in Palestinian political history. Furthermore the decision to relocate Hamas’s seat of power from Damascus to Doha immediately after the start of the Syrian crisis was another test of Mishal’s leadership. Notwithstanding the challenges, Mishal’s charm and accessibility have continued to improve the image of Hamas across the world. He has conducted a number of media interviews with a number of international and regional media organisations dispelling a number of myths about Hamas.

The world woke up to a different Hamas on 02 May 2017. The commentary on the new policy document has started in earnest and is gaining momentum. Varying reactions to the policy document rather suggest a number of options that Hamas should have opted moving forward. Amongst those options is the South African political solution i.e. a non — racial, non — sexist society where people irrespective of their religion or political affiliation, live side by side in a constitutional democracy. South Africa has arguably the strongest active solidarity movements for Palestine. The idea of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) was conceived in South Africa in the “people’s conference” held parallel to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa in 2001. Subsequently the South African government and civil society organized a number of initiatives aimed at trying to bring a political solution between Israel and Palestine. There are many similarities in the conflict between Israel –Palestine and South Africa. South African apartheid used religious justifications in subjugating and oppressing the majority black African. They use anthropological propaganda justifications about the origins of the majority black people of South Africa in trying to render the majority of blacks as immigrants. They also claim to have “found an empty land without people for people without land” when they landed in the shores of South Africa. These are similar myths the Israeli governments have used to justify their existence and occupation of Palestine. Moreover the political manifestations in Israel tend to mimic those under apartheid South Africa. This include job and residential reservation laws, restrictions of people’s movement, imprisonment without trial, religious and racial discrimination and systematic displacement of people. The South African political trajectory and settlement have all the elements that could make South Africa’s political option a panacea to the Israeli-Palestine conflict

In 1994 South Africa achieved the impossible, those achievements elevated South Africa to a new status in the international community. South Africa is still battling racism and there is a huge economic gap between the blacks and whites. The white people in South Africa remain relatively wealthy and affluent whilst the majority of blacks are still poor. However what makes South Africa of then and that of Nelson Mandela different from each other was the quality of the leadership. Mandela understood the “urgency of now” he was not blinded by the immediacy of settling historical scores. The South African political miracle was not only as a result of Mandela doing alone. Ordinary South Africans also played a role, their love for land and country and their realization that it has to be shared amongst all who live in it contributed to the political settlement. South Africans rejected the Bantustanisation of their country, i.e. the fragmentation of South Africa into small “countries” for different people. They refused to live in a geographically fragmented country. The agreement reached between all antagonists during the negotiation process was that South Africa must be a circular, non-racial and united country, that in hindsight has proven to be a key to the success of the country. The continual employment of political mechanism to address the past injustices and inequalities continue to facilitate the success of the South African ambitious political project. South Africans understood that short-term political fixes could never guarantee future political stability.

Senior Research Fellow Africa Asia Dialogues, Johannesburg, SA Research Fellow Al Sharq Forum, Istanbul, Turkiye Columnist, Middle East Monitor, London UK.

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Thembisa Fakude

Senior Research Fellow Africa Asia Dialogues, Johannesburg, SA Research Fellow Al Sharq Forum, Istanbul, Turkiye Columnist, Middle East Monitor, London UK.