I actually feel sorry for Mahmoud Abbas. Clearly the situation with regard to the Palestinian Authority is worse than we thought. So bad, in fact, that for the third time in some years, he has chosen to visit South Africa and to be hosted by none other than Jacob Zuma himself.
One has to wonder how poorly he must be faring politically to have scraped the bottom of this morally bankrupt barrel, and what it is that binds these two gents together. One also has to wonder what he hopes to gain from the not so successful story of this president and indeed, who is next on the bucket list of his global travels? Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe?
The last few weeks have seen the Palestinian situation back in the South African press. The anticipated public executions by Hamas in Gaza aside (nothing like a sense of drama to keep the “treasoness” in check), South Africans were all a titter about the donation for many millions of South African Rands, of a statue of the late Nelson Mandela to Ramallah. And whereas the Johannesburg mayor was tremendously proud of his benevolence, not all those who live in his city were as thrilled. Given the state of decline of his city with regard to roads, traffic lights, electricity supply, a failed garbage collection system and aged water infrastructure, many wondered if perhaps Ramallah should not be making a donation or two to us and not the other way around.
President Jacob Zuma is a man with troubles. He is currently facing multiple (and by multiple we mean in the hundreds) corruption charges. He has been publicly called out by the Constitutional Court for his flagrant disregard of an order to pay back tax payers’ monies spent on his personal home and has been accused of selling the country “over a plate of curry” to a family that has allegedly appointed ministers in return for favours. He is hanging on to the presidency by a thread and only remains in power because he has surrounded himself with loyal generals over whom he has a suspicious amount of control. He is massively unpopular and hatred for him has united all races in a way that Nelson Mandela could only dream of. Simply put, he is South Africa’s natural disaster.
And this week, he welcomes, once again, Mahmoud Abbas. According to press releases, South Africa has long identified with the struggle of the Palestinian people. Which is nice. But try as I might, I find it impossible to imagine what Zuma will be able to contribute to the dialogue. Besides having completely discredited himself by welcoming Hamas to South Africa last year — yes, the terrorist group that publicly executes people, that uses children as human shields, that steals NGO funds dedicated for schools and hospitals and uses them for terror tunnels and arms — Zuma has managed to destroy so much in his own backyard, that I am seriously worried as to what he will do to the West Bank. Surely, the Palestinians deserve better than this? Surely, they have suffered enough?
Of course, there is a concern as to what Abbas might teach Zuma. As Palestinian president since 2005, he has not held an election for many years, citing “Internal Palestinian Conflict.” He repeatedly threatens to step down, but as one of the main financial beneficiaries of the crises, he is one of the region’s wealthiest politicians. Resolution of the conflict would mean that global aid would dry up and that he might have to actually hold an election, which hardly sounds like an incentive at all. These are the lessons that I would much prefer he teach Robert Mugabe and not President Jacob Zuma, who seems to have enough ideas of his own.
Abbas will come and go. And nothing will come of it. There will be a few little articles in the local press and those with an anti-Israel agenda will swallow the soundbites without question. Zuma will be focused, at least for a few days, on someone else’s country and will pay less attention to his own. This in of itself might not be a bad thing all. And, in a way, as for all small things, for that at least we should be grateful.