Opinionista Bongani Mbindwane 18 October 2015

Israeli-Palestinian conflict: South Africa’s hosting of Hamas leaders could turn tide

The hosting of the Hamas leadership in South Africa could prove to be the most important event in the history of attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that continues to kill many mostly innocent people, children and women among them. The African National Congress can use its experience as a formerly banned freedom fighting movement to share its ideas on peace and resolving the age-old political dispute.

In December 1997, Nelson Mandela said: “We know too well that our freedom is not complete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

During the last United Nations (UN) General Assembly, a resolution allowing Palestine to fly its flag in front of the UN headquarters in New York passed with 119 votes out of 193. This followed the 2012 vote at the General Assembly which approved the de facto recognition of the sovereign state of Palestine.

Palestinians have been seeking full independence from occupier Israel for decades, as well as full recognition as a sovereign state from the UN and the international community.

In 2014, the US used its veto power to curtail a bid proposed by the Palestinians calling for the creation of a Palestinian state and an end to Israeli ‘occupation’.

We know of Palestine from ancient Greek manuscripts, but this understanding is lost when we are asked to refer only to the biblical account of this period. The Bible finds Palestinians in five city-states, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath, Ashdod and Ekron. Since the times of Samson, there is hearsay evidence of Israelites fighting with the Palestinians.

The African National Congress (ANC) can use its experience as a formerly banned freedom fighting movement to share its ideas on peace and resolving the age-old political dispute. With decades of experience, the ANC is uniquely placed to share with Palestinian groups the art of getting the best out of a powerful foe. This has been successfully demonstrated in various ANC-influenced resolutions from Sudan to Burundi and across the Mediterranean to Northern Ireland..

As a formerly armed resistance movement, the ANC is also able to intervene with substance and credibility. The hosting of the Hamas leadership in South Africa could prove to be the most important event in the history of attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that continues to kill many mostly innocent people, children and women among them. The lived experience of peace in South Africa could alert Hamas to the possibilities.

The ANC, which hosted the Palestinian Authority in a state visit with full state honours in Pretoria late last year, needs to revisit its support for a two-state solution as it is not workable and has not produced a solution after numerous attempts. The two-state solution is aimed at keeping the status quo and would leave Palestine with a broken country, with a movement that will forever be policed by Israel. It also doesn’t deal with the issue of Israeli security concerns. The current mapping of the two-state solution means neither of these countries should have own air defence systems or air forces.

What makes the ANC uniquely positioned to assist Hamas is their similar colonial history and segregationist laws.

In 1517 Palestine was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire and remained under the rule of the Turks until World War I. After the Turks were defeated by the British forces led by General Edmund Allenby, France and Britain shared control of the territories.

The British governed this area under a League of Nations mandate from 1920 to 1948. To the Palestinian population who lived there, it was their homeland and had been promised to them by the Allies for joining the fight against the Turks, under the McMahon Agreement.

The British had promised the same land to the Jews in the Balfour Declaration. After 1920, using the Balfour Declaration, Jews started to flock to the land and lived in peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians.

The British double-dealing in McMahon Agreement and Balfour Declaration had promised two nations the same piece of real estate. This time the British ruled over the land.

In August 1929, relations between the Jews and Palestinians broke down in Jerusalem over resources as the number of Jews had doubled in just 10 years.

Jerusalem was a particular issue. In late August 1929 a four-day skirmish left over 200 people dead in the city. The Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, had said the Jews were threatening the sanctity of Moslem life.The deaths did not deter Jews from moving to Palestine.

In May 1936, 34 British soldiers died in more violence.

The Palestinians felt occupied by the British army and the Jews. The British used the League of Nations mandate as their sole reason occupying Palestine. The Jews also felt occupied by the British and Moslems.

The British put a quota on the number of Jews who could enter Palestine in any one year.

Palestinians and Jews started attacking the British authority in planned attacks because they believed the British had failed to keep their word after World War I. As neither group got what they were looking for, tensions rose. The British still controlled Palestine. The Jews used terrorist tactics to push their claim for the territory. Jewish terrorist groups the Stern Gang and Irgun Zvai Leumi attacked the British authorities and bombed the British military headquarters in Palestine, the King David Hotel.

These Jewish terrorist groups were demobilised into the Israeli Defence Force but their right-wing ideas remain to this day. New terrorist groups morph periodically within the Jewish people, like the menacing Price Tag terrorist group which currently vandalises Christian churches and compounds around Israel.

In 1947, the UN accepted the idea of partitioning Palestine into a territory for the Jews and Palestinians. Unable to deal with the chaos they had caused, the British withdrew from the territory on 14 May 1948. Now there were two regions carved out by the UN, one Israeli and the other Palestine. The same year, Israel was attacked by Arab nations that surrounded it in a war that lasted from May 1948 to January 1949.

At the same time, the Palestinians created the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, which refuses to recognise Israel to this day. Then came yet another Arab Israeli war in 1967 with Israel capturing the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights from Syria.

This history is important as the world is fixated on the 1967 borders.

Starting from 1967 may not achieve a permanent solution for the Palestinians nor the Israelis. The two-state solution has already shown itself to be a non-starter on geography and security.

The idea of a single solution or a three-state solution must be put back on the agenda of this complex matter.

A one-state solution or international state solution may be the way to achieve a lasting political solution in the Middle East.

The 1967 borders do not create a single, workable and continuous state. Imagine for a moment that a part of New York and a part of Texas belonged to another nation and they were merged to create one state, how is that workable at all?

Africa is in a mess due to British mistakes. Palestine too. Hong Kong and others. The British just managed to keep Scotland colonised in a vote. Aboriginal Australians remain slaves in their own land. This is the face of colonialisation and its legacy.

Palestine is in the mess it is in because of the British and yet they get a pass. The British parliament debated in 2014 whether to accept Palestinian statehood. The answer was known before the end of the parliament debate. In supporting a ‘no’ vote, George Galloway said: “Israel was a state born in 1948 out of the blood of the Palestinians who were hounded from their land. I continue to support the only realistic solution, one democratic and secular state, called Israel-Palestine or Palestine-Israel. The proposed two-state solution is to all intents and purposes dead and is only used in order to provide Israel further breathing space to consolidate the illegal settlements and expand its land grab further.”

The parliamentary motion threatened to split the Labour party, with then party leader Ed Miliband forced to backtrack on his original plans to demand a three-line whip on his MPs to support the motion.

Sir Alan Duncan said Britain had an “historic and moral duty” to recognise Palestine.

The British parliament voted that the government should recognise the Palestinian state. The vote was non-binding on the government.

The world needs to talk to all the parties to the conflict including Hamas irrespective of its listing as a terrorist organisation by the US – after all the ANC and its leaders were in the same list. Today, even Cape Town is led by a mayor who reportedly remains on the US terror list due to the Pan Africanist Congress she led, which through its armed wing, the Azanian People’s Liberation Army, nearly derailed democratic rule by going on a murderous campaign targeting mainly innocent and unarmed whites, even church goers in Kenilworth Cape Town in 1993, the eve of democracy.

As aforementioned, the past has seen terrorist groups from the Jewish side. What is now important in the face of Islamic State is a stronger desire for all to push for peace and put all potential solutions on the table.

Too many people have died. The world must henceforth recognize all parties to the conflict. If the ANC could speak to the Irish Republican Army, it should be applauded in its efforts to get the Palestinian factions to resolve their disputes for the sake of the people and world peace. DM

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