Hamas has accepted previous agreements reached between the Palestinian Authority and Israel and has in effect renounced violence, while the Jewish state continues to take measures akin to state terrorism, South Africa's Minister for Intelligence Services Ronnie Kasrils told The Jerusalem Post over the weekend. The agreements the minister was referring to were actually made between Israel and the PLO. Furthermore, Kasrils said, he had renewed his invitation to PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to visit South Africa, with, for the first time, the approval of his government in Pretoria. The move has been widely condemned by the South African Jewish community, as well as by the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.
Apartheid fighter protests Israeli comparisons
The United States, the EU and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist organization, and since the Hamas government has refused to recognize Israel, cease violence and undertake to abide by previous agreements made with Israel, the Quartet has frozen direct aid and contacts.
On Thursday, Kasrils accused Israel of conducting a policy against the Palestinians that was worse than apartheid.
Speaking on the sidelines of a UN meeting in South Africa on the situation in the PA, Kasrils said South Africa's townships had never been attacked by helicopter gunships and tanks, in contrast to IDF actions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
"The analogy between apartheid and Israel's occupation of Palestine is often made. It is not the same thing. The occupation is absolutely worse," Kasrils told reporters.
"It is important that we tell the Israeli authorities they are behaving like fascists when they do certain things, although we are not calling it a fascist state," he said.
Kasrils, a Jew, and an outspoken critic of Israel, told the Post in an e-mail exchange from Pretoria that Hamas was following a "natural path" from a "resistance movement" to a political party.
Kasrils has just returned to South Africa after spending a week in the PA meeting with government officials, after which he invited Haniyeh to visit Pretoria.
South Africa's Jewish Board of Deputies condemned Kasrils for that invitation, and said in a statement: "Expressing support for an organization whose very founding charter describes the Jewish people as fundamentally evil enemies of humanity and calls for their total annihilation fundamentally contradicts both the ideals of South Africa and of the ruling ANC itself."
Haniyeh has accepted the invitation although no date has been set.
Kasrils said Hamas was moderating and becoming capable of leading the Palestinians.
"It took Fatah 20 years to recognize Israel. It took 30 years for South African adversaries to talk to one another, and more than that for those bitterest of foes, [DUP leader] Dr. Ian Paisley and [Sinn Fein's] Martin McGuinness, to bury the hatchet in Northern Ireland. The logic, experience and practical necessity is for liberation or resistance movements to transform in this way. But they need serious partners. In any event, occupation must end if you expect resistance to end," Kasrils said.
"Giving legitimacy and recognition to an unreformed Hamas leadership, a leadership that has stubbornly and consistently refused to accept the three international benchmarks, that refuses to renounce terrorism and violence, and refuses to support peace, cannot help peace," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.
Regev said inviting Hamas could be seen as "unfortunately reinforcing" its extremist positions.
Kasrils believes Hamas has accepted the international community's demands.
"I understand that they [Hamas] have accepted previous agreements arrived at between the Palestinian Authority and the government of Israel. Contained within these agreements are the recognition of Israel and renunciation of violence.
"Even if that were not the case the peacemaker should not be stubborn and obdurate, but needs to reach out across the divide and encourage the adversary.
"The other side of the coin is that Israel has not mended its ways, continues to annex land courtesy of the separation wall, extends the settlements, has totally broken with the Oslo Agreements, does not renounce collective punishment and all the other cruel measures akin to state terrorism.
"Israel expects compliance from the Palestinians without displaying any change itself. Hamas would like to be invited to South Africa, but we have pointed out that as a government we do not invite parties but governments and their representatives. We have urged Hamas to cooperate with President [Mahmoud] Abbas and the national unity government. President [Thabo] Mbeki welcomed the Mecca Agreement. On that basis I said to Prime Minister Haniyeh that we could now look forward to him visiting South Africa as leader of a government delegation.
"Our Foreign Affairs Ministry, through Deputy Minister [Aziz] Pahad, has endorsed that. Hamas, as has happened with Fatah, and movements from other countries such as Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka wants to learn the lessons of South Africa's negotiated settlement. We have referred them to the ANC for that," Kasrils said.
Kasril's interpretation of the Mecca Agreement, which set the stage for the Hamas-Fatah coalition, stands in contrast to repeated statements from Haniyeh and Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal clearly stating that Hamas has not rejected violence.
Summing up his recent visit to the PA, Kasrils called on Israel to take a series of steps to end the conflict, including taking down the security barrier and releasing Palestinian prisoners, but had no similar demands of the Palestinians.
"I am afraid it's been a one-way street. They are the victims, Israel the occupiers. Israel shows no willingness to get into genuine negotiations but just piles on one demand after another.
"At every stage the Palestinians have demonstrated their willingness to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 Green Line. That is incredibly generous, amounting to 22% of mandate Palestine or half of the 1947 UN Partition Plan, which allocated 56% to a Jewish homeland and 44% to the Palestinians.
"Palestinian territory today has shrunk to some 12% - fragmented, Bantustans. To end the conflict the Palestinian leaders need to unite as a minimum behind the 1967 borders and not relent until they achieve a genuine, contiguous state," Kasrils told the Post.