Abu Mazen’s pilgrimage to South Africa: Why on the eve of Hamas visit?

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is due to visit South Africa in the next few days to address Parliament in addition to meeting President Thabo Mbeki.

His visit, ahead of the much publicized invitation by the SA government to Hamas for a meeting in Pretoria, has raised a number of questions.

Is Abu Mazen rushing to South Africa in order to diffuse the impact of the impending Hamas visit?

Is he likely to urge the SA government to pressure Hamas to moderate its demands vis-à-vis Israel?

Is he going to insist that President Mbeki allies his government with the defeated Fatah movement in its quest to regain power?

Or will he indeed lobby to quash Hamas’ visit?

Whatever his motivations may be, it is nevertheless true that the current stand-off between Abbas and Hamas over the formation of a new cabinet has raised tensions in the Occupied Territories.

These have also spilled over in neighbouring countries where active low intensity campaigns by disgruntled associates of Abu Mazen have been seeking to undermine Hamas. A case in point is the recent bar on Hamas from participation at an Arab League conference in Sudan.

The most recent salvo fired by Abbas is the threat to use his “constitutional powers” against the formation of a new Hamas cabinet if it refuses to amend its political programme.

What this means is that unless Hamas backs-off from its stated objective to continue its freedom struggle to secure Palestinian national interests, the powers enjoyed by Abbas as President of the PA will be used arbitrarily to dismiss the new cabinet.

While Hamas officials correctly view the threat as “undemocratic” given that such a move will defy the will of the majority of Palestinians who voted for the Islamic Movement in the recent elections; Abbas is leaning on the Bush administration for support.

After all the American/Israeli juggernaut which has held sway over Palestine for so long is not eager to allow Abbas to relinquish his authority in favour of an avowed enemy.

At the heart of the disagreement between Abbas and Hamas is the subject of the latter’s political programme.

Is it not strange that the same programme which earned Hamas an overwhelming landslide victory at the polls, is causing a great deal of consternation within the Abbas camp?

Khalid Meshaal, head of the political bureau of Hamas, in an op-ed published in the Guardian following their election victory, contextualized their steadfast commitment not to sell their people or principles. He affirmed that Hamas will never give up the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and warned the US and EU governments that their efforts to force Hamas to give up its principles and struggles will be in vain.

“Our people who gave thousands of martyrs, the millions of refugees who have waited for nearly 60 years to return home and our 9000 political and war prisoners in Israeli jails have not made those sacrifices in order to settle for close to nothing.”

So if Abu Mazen has it on his mind to get South Africa to pressure Hamas to undergo “moderation” does he seriously believe that Thabo Mbeki will be able to persuade Khalid Meshaal to settle for zero?

In any event, though South Africa’s own experience in a negotiated settlement will certainly feature large in any discussions with Hamas, it would be inappropriate –” if not downright insulting –” to either prescribe or place unreasonable demands on an occupied people.

Palestinians, being highly politicized and educated, will not be unaware that the single goal for which the African National Congress was created and for which it always stood for never changed: the end of apartheid!

They will know too in the words of Edward Said, that the force of unyielding principle held on to from the position of moral strength was capable of delegitimising apartheid all over the world.

Abu Mazen’s threat to invoke his “constitutional powers” would be an unfortunate return to retain the corruption and injustices of the Palestinian Authority.

This may be applauded in Tel Aviv and Washington but will be a blow to the Palestinian struggle for justice and equality.

As an architect of the failed Oslo agreements Abu Mazen knows that both it and the subsequent Road Map lies in tatters. It is futile to believe otherwise and Hamas knows this. Yet Abbas is willing to talk to Israel without any conditions.

Indeed the recent Israeli raid on Jericho and the abduction of prisoners including the leader of the PFLP who incidentally is an elected member of the new legislature, is yet another manifestation of the contempt with which Abbas is held in Israel.

Hence the question: Does Abbas realize that undermining Hamas would be the equivalent of giving up a legitimate struggle without the slightest trace of a strategic or moral vision?