By Siyabonga Hadebe
WHILE the ICJ genocide case has grabbed headlines for the past weeks, one coincidence that many analysts do not talk about concerns the parallels between South Africa and Israel, as well as between the ANC and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
This article examines the similarities and contradictions that the genocide case exposes and its implications for the ANC and the PLO.
The centrality of Hamas in the latest events in Palestine is not a coincidence but a necessary political development that the ANC itself is currently experiencing.
Both the Oslo Accords and the CODESA negotiations, which the PLO and the ANC led, respectively, are now under intense scrutiny.
The prominence of Hamas in Gaza is a direct consequence of internal struggles within the Palestinian community, fuelled by the perceived close relations between the PLO and Israel.
This dynamic bears resemblance to a growing sentiment within South Africa, where the ANC faces mounting pressure from within its ranks for its perceived leniency in addressing the enduring legacies of apartheid, particularly in the economic sphere.
Relations between Israel and the apartheid state
The similarities began in the 1940s when both Israel and the apartheid state were founded in 1948 and 1949, respectively. Both entities shared similarities as occupiers and racialists against their indigenous populations.
Unsurprisingly, Israel and the apartheid state maintained very close political and security relations for many years. In 1953, for example, Israel and South Africa signed a secret military agreement.
The agreement allowed Israel to purchase military equipment from South Africa, and South Africa received training from Israeli military personnel.
The founding of the militant organisations in South Africa and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in the late 1950s marked a turning point in the struggles for liberation in South Africa and Palestine.
The militarisation of these movements was a response to the apartheid system of racial segregation in South Africa and the displacement of Palestinians from their homes following the creation of Israel.
While the militarisation led to violence and bloodshed, it also contributed to the eventual realisation of political goals in both cases: the end of apartheid in South Africa and the creation of a Palestinian state in Israel.
Generally hailed as a success, these political goals are increasingly questioned in democratic South Africa (one state, two unequal societies) and Israel/ Palestine (belligerent relationship).
These realities create frustrations for the marginalised groups, leading to the rejection of new and old political dispensations.
Nonetheless, Israel and apartheid South Africa’s relationship grew closer during the so-called Cold War. Both countries were aligned with the US and opposed the Soviet Union and its allies.
In 1973, the two pariah states had a secret military agreement, which allowed Israel to provide South Africa with uranium for its nuclear weapons program and assistance in developing chemical and biological weapons.
Israel also continued to provide South Africa with other forms of aid until 1989, when Israel announced it would stop selling military equipment to South Africa.
Both Israel and South Africa embarked on peace negotiations with their respective oppressed populations in the early 1990s. However, the outcomes were fundamentally different.
Whereas the black majority in South Africa went on to acquire political and civil rights, Palestinians remain under Israeli occupation and struggle for their state.
Despite establishing diplomatic relations in 1994, the ties between Israel and post-apartheid South Africa remain strained due to Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
South Africa has been a vocal critic of Israel’s policies and has called for an end to the occupation and the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
This means that the genocide case does not occur in a vacuum. Still, the current developments happen amid a radically different environment created by the massive decline of the PLO in Palestine, particularly in Gaza.
The PLO and its struggle for political relevance in Palestine
The PLO is an umbrella organisation that represents the Palestinian people internationally. Founded in 1964, its original goal was to establish an Arab state in the entire area formerly known as Mandatory Palestine, without Israel.
Located in the West Bank, the PLO is the officially recognised government of the Bantustan of Palestine and has held UN observer status since 1974.
In 1993, the PLO signed the Oslo Accords, recognising Israel’s sovereignty and agreeing to pursue statehood for the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, namely the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Despite the acknowledgement in the Israel–PLO Letters of Mutual Recognition, where the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat disavowed ‘terrorism and other acts of violence’ against Israel, the PLO persisted in participating in militant actions, notably during the Second Intifada (2000–2005).
On 29 October 2018, the PLO Central Council adopted a resolution to suspend Palestinian recognition of Israel and subsequently ceased all security and economic collaboration with Israeli authorities.
This suspension is contingent on Israel’s acknowledgement of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders. As one analyst correctly puts it, the ANC leadership ignores conference resolutions (SARB nationalisation, land issues, etc.) to do whatever they desire.
This leads to internal tensions in the ANC between leadership and membership in dealing with the past under the current dispensation. This discontentment now extends to include the EFF, the MK Party and other players.
The 31st session of the Palestinian Central Council in 2022 faced criticism from various quarters within Palestine’s political landscape, including factions in the council’s deliberations.
The Council announced a halt to security coordination with Israel and the withdrawal of Palestinian recognition of Israel until it recognises the state of Palestine. Therefore, the events of 7 October did not occur out of the blue but are an outcome of political tensions inside Palestine.
Critics viewed the 2022 Council decisions as mere rhetoric, accusing the PLO leadership, led by Mahmoud Abbas, of disregarding the resolutions from the Central Council sessions in 2015 and 2018.
These include the decisions to review signed accords with Israel, terminate security coordination and hold democratic elections for all PLO and Palestinian Authority positions.
Despite initial plans for elections in May 2021, Abbas suspended them, citing the need to reschedule once Israel allowed Palestinians in Jerusalem to vote.
Legitimacy issues are not new for the PLO; its status as a dominant force in Palestine’s politics has been waning for a while now. The ascendancy of Hamas in Gaza was born out of frustration with the PLO.
Founded in 1987 during the First Intifada as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas is a more radicalised political formation compared to Fatah.
Tensions between Fatah and Hamas escalated in 2005 after Arafat’s death in November 2004, and conflicts persisted following the Hamas victory in the legislative election in 2006.
Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections meant it became the majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council. Also, Ismail Haniyeh, now head of the head of the Hamas Political Bureau in exile since 2019, served as the Palestinian Prime Minister, collaborating with PLO/Fatah officials, including Abbas.
However, amid the Fatah–Hamas conflict, Abbas dismissed Haniyeh from office in 2007. Despite this decree, Haniyeh did not acknowledge it and continued to exercise prime ministerial authority in the Gaza Strip.
External players intensified the conflicts in Palestine, which eventually led to the ousting of the PLO/Fatah in Gaza. This marked the conclusion of political influence for both the PLO and, by extension, Israel.
Israel implemented punitive measures, including withholding an estimated USD50 million per month in tax receipts. The US demanded the return of USD50 million in unexpended foreign aid.
Meanwhile, the Gaza Battle in 2007 and the events that followed meant that the Gaza Strip and ‘Hamas’ had to be eradicated by the PLO, Israel and the West.
The Palestinian Authority currently faces challenges due to perceived legitimacy issues, Abbas’s side-lining rivals and the absence of a clear Fatah/ PLO candidate to lead Gaza.
Some Fatah officials continue in Gaza government posts, but they lack prominence compared to those associated with the government in Ramallah.
Fatah/ PLO leaders encounter challenges in reabsorbing Gaza and face declining West Bank support to Hamas amid escalating tensions with Israel.
The upcoming 2024 national elections might yield a comparable verdict for the ANC and the CODESA accords, as new radicalised players could surface with the intent to reshape South Africa.
Consequently, the perceived amicable relationship between the ANC and capital could face significant disruption, mirroring the challenges experienced by the PLO and Israel with Gaza.
What is probably going on in many people’s minds is how to deal with an unexpected election outcome as the time draws closer.
The post-‘Hamas’ Gaza rhetoric
After losing the Gaza Strip, the little political legitimacy the PLO retains in Palestine is at risk due to growing violence in the West Bank. However, Fatah leaders might gain renewed attention as potential critical figures in US, Israeli and Arab efforts to stabilise post-Hamas Gaza.
The controversial Western stance that the bombardment of the Gaza Strip was about Hamas is not at all misplaced but figurative. The Israeli defence minister vowed to wipe Hamas ‘off the face of the Earth’.
Therefore, the notion of Hamas is about suppressing dissent within Palestine, especially in light of the impractical Oslo Peace Accords.
But the question is: What is the PLO saying?
After the end of Israel’s war in Gaza, argues Secretary General of the PLO Executive Committee Hussein Al-Sheikh, all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, should conduct a serious assessment of their policies in achieving freedom for their people.
He emphasised the need for Hamas to reconsider its methods and policies following the recent events, acknowledging that the political path under the Oslo Peace Accords was faltering and unlikely to achieve the Palestinians’ ambition for a state within pre-1967 borders.
Throughout, the PLO engaged in political manoeuvring and harboured the expectation that Hamas would be eradicated, leading to extensive destruction in the Gaza Strip.
The actions taken by the ANC at the Hague do not contribute to the PLO’s prospects for survival, and Israel has also overplayed its hand. The evident result is heightened resentment and dissatisfaction within Palestine and beyond.
It is unclear how the PLO will maintain its position as ‘the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people’.
The picture that is emerging from the Palestinian struggle is that Middle Eastern geopolitics and desperate internal and external players all make up a powerful Collective designed to silence the people. Insurgency should be an expected response under extreme conditions of repression.
Thus, Collective deals with Hamas and the Gaza Strip as it dealt with Arafat and Mohamed Morsi in Egypt. The genocide charge must be extended to include all other members of the Collective, including the PLO itself.
* Based in Geneva, Siyabonga Hadebe is an independent commentator on socio-economics, politics and global matters. The views expressed here are his own.