Zuma: Hamas Prepared to Live Side-by-side With Israel

South Africa's president, who met with a Hamas delegation in October, says the Palestinian organization has 'evolved' and today accepts the existence of Israel.

AFP

Hamas has evolved from a group that wanted Israel to disappear to accepting that Israelis and Palestinians can live side-by-side, South African President Jacob Zuma told his country's Parliament last Thursday.

Zuma was explaining why South African officials and the ruling African National Congress had hosted Hamas political bureau head Khaled Meshal in the country last month, the South African website News24 reported.

"There was a time when all Arabs were saying what the honorable member has just read, that Israel must disappear," Zuma said in response to a question by African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe.

"That time has passed. Now they accept the need for Israel to exist side-by-side," said Zuma.

He said it was important to keep on talking to Hamas to "influence" people and to reconcile the different Palestinian groups - Fatah and Hamas.

"The ANC will never stop trying to influence people with logic to 'the correct views and values, '" Zuma said.  "You can't ignore people with different views," he said. 

"People at times think that Hamas is very extreme. They forget that Israel is also very extreme and that's why there has been an unending fight. That is why people must talk."

Meshal headed a Hamas delegation which visited South Africa in October. In a speech in Cape Town, he cautioned against becoming "part of the mindset that kills in the name of religion, or ethnicity."

"Differences in ethnicity and religion can never be resolved in killing and violence," Meshal said. "A Muslim will never kill someone else because they have different ethnic backgrounds.

"We in Palestine do not fight Israeli occupation because they are Jews; we fight them because they are occupiers." 

Zuma said that he was on contact with both sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict and had met with the Jewish Board of Deputies earlier last week.