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Abbas call to Ramaphosa – routine chat or political move?



In what local political analysts describe as a “fairly routine phone call”, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made a telephone call to South African president Cyril Ramaphosa on the afternoon of 19 August 2021.

According to local sources, they discussed recent events in the Middle East, and expressed support and friendship for one another. But could this call mean more, especially because Ramaphosa chose to speak to the head of the more moderate Fatah movement?

“There remains a very close relationship between the Palestinian Authority [PA] and the ANC [African National Congress],” says local political analyst Daniel Silke. “Certainly I think from an ANC perspective, the Abbas faction is the preferred faction the ANC wishes to deal with rather than Hamas.

“There’s obviously a cordial relationship between Abbas and Ramaphosa. If South Africa is looking to engage in the Middle East, it’s engaging, it would seem, via the Abbas faction. Whether or not this has any impact on the broader Palestinian issue, I don’t think one can really surmise much. There are aspects relating to the African Union [Israel joining the African Union as an observer], and that’s why there’s been this communication.”

He notes that there are also different factions in the ANC, ranging from moderates to radicals.

“From Ramaphosa’s point of view, he would want to keep channels of communication open more with the Abbas faction, rather than allow radicals to become more influential within ANC thinking. One could argue that this is an attempt to keep mainstream Palestinians like Abbas as the predominant players for the ANC when it comes to discussing the Palestinian issue.”

But fellow political analyst Steven Gruzd notes that South Africa also talks to Hamas, and Hamas’ top leadership has visited South Africa, been hosted by the ANC, and has met senior government officials. “So, I don’t think we can read anything into the fact that they’re talking to the PA as opposed to Hamas. South Africa believes in talking to both, and in fact wants to use its offices to try and bring the sides [of the Palestinians] together. There have been attempts to do so before, which haven’t been very successful.

“It also comes after the granting of observer status at the African Union to Israel, which upset South Africa. It condemned it, and it might be playing into that narrative as well,” Gruzd says.

Says another local political analyst, Dr Ralph Mathekga, “Having a conversation with Abbas is more sensible for Ramaphosa. It creates less diplomatic tremors than would be the case had he engaged with Hamas. Ramaphosa is being careful. A direct call to Abbas expressing solidarity would most likely not bring about controversy. But engaging Hamas as an institution might result in some local and international leaders having concerns.”

Sara Gon, the head of strategic engagement at the Institute of Race Relations, says, “the telephone call between Abbas and Ramaphosa doesn’t appear to have any import unless Abbas is trying to shore up support for Fatah in some way, pending any future elections. While the ANC supports Hamas, I imagine Ramaphosa wouldn’t be keen to show too much support or contact with it, because Hamas unashamedly wants to destroy Israel and has partnered with Iran to do so.”

The SA Jewish Report reached out to the Palestinian embassy for comment, but didn’t receive a response by the time of going to print.

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