Saturday, May 6

South Africa and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa, sees himself as a potential peace broker in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. He intends to use the South African experience in its weaning the whites from apartheid when the negotiations from white rule to multi-racial rule took place in the 1990’s after the release of Nelson Mandela. He seems to draw a parallel between the two situations and sees this conflict in those terms. This is dangerous and misleading. The situation between Israel and apartheid South Africa is totally different and the methods of solution ought to be viewed from a different perspective entirely.

According to Haaretz of 5 May 2006, Benjamin Pogrund wrote that Thabo Mbeki wishes to pay a visit to the region in order to visit Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and pay a visit to the Hamas leadership as well. He hopes to include a visit to Israel. This visit will not produce any positive results because of the mindset of Hamas. Apart from that, it is unlikely that Israel will permit him to its shores after meeting with Hamas. Thabo Mbeki claims that he wishes to delve on the South African experience in the hope that he will convince Hamas to change its position vis a vis Israel. One wonders if Israel would reject any world leader who talks with Hamas to a state visit. This remains to be seen.

The official positions of South Africa in its attitude towards this conflict are:

  1. Acceptance of the Oslo Accords of 1993.

  2. Acceptance of the Road Map that the Quartet had formulated.

There are differences between the South African apartheid regime and the situation between Israel and the Palestinians that Mbeki tends to overlook and oversimplify. The occupation of territory because of the June 1967 Six Day War was a war of defense for Israel’s existence. Israel’s establishment in 1948 was never accepted by the Arab states at the time. Negotiations with Israel were never accepted.

Even after the signing of the Oslo Accords, Arafat continued making provocative and rabble rousing statements against Israel. He never accepted Israel’s right to exist and this became clear over the years through his rhetoric despite the fact that he signed the Oslo Accords. He used the two-tongue approach. One tongue was for international consumption in moving towards peace while the other tongue was rhetoric for his people’s consumption including the marching of martyrs to conquer Jerusalem-Al Quds.

We were all witnesses to the deteriorating situation and the movement towards the use of the suicide bomber and the beginning of the second Intifada of October 2000. The violence catapulted and communications between Israel and the Palestinians had reached a point of almost no return.

Today the situation has reached a new low. The Palestinians elected Hamas to replace the corrupt and inept Palestinian Authority despite the fact that a year before that they had elected Mahmoud Abbas to be their president. This has resulted in the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority with its irreconcilable attitude towards Israel and Mahmoud Abbas remaining the president. His attitude towards Israel is pragmatic.

How can Mahmoud Abbas show readiness to negotiate with Israel while his Hamas dominated parliament is opposed to any recognition of Israel’s right to exist? This situation is paradoxical and untenable! The Palestinian Authority is still talking with two voices. In the past, both voices were those of Yasser Arafat. Today these two voices are divided between Mahmoud Abbas (the moderate) and Hamas (uncompromising and extreme). The problem today is the inability of the Hamas regime to come to terms with Israel’s existence and to cease terror against Israel. It is futile negotiating with Mahmoud Abbas while Hamas still supports and carries out terror attacks against Israel. They entertain the fantasy of achieving the destruction of Israel and establishing an Islamist Palestinian state in its place. The most they are prepared to concede is a temporary cessation of terror or hudna for an unspecified period of their choosing.

In South Africa, there was a desire of all of South Africa’s people irrespective of race, colour and creed, to solve her problems peacefully and to reject apartheid outright. Nelson Mandela, the greatest political leader that South Africa had ever produced, had risen from prisoner to president in democratic elections. He had embarked on a programme of uniting all South Africans and he had succeeded in that quest. The reason was that all South Africans showed a desire to solve their problems. This is not the case in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. There is no negotiating partner for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This is unfortunate as both sides have much to gain from a peaceful solution to this cruel conflict.

In the not so distant past and present, many countries accused Israel of subjecting the Palestinians to much suffering due to the occupation after the Six Days War of June 1967. The establishment of Israeli settlements in the conquered territories was a grave mistake and resulted in a stalemate. Today the occupation is one of many facets that the Islamist terrorist uses to justify terrorist activity on a worldwide basis. The situation is not in the hands of Hamas alone, but external and evil players have now closed ranks with them. Iran, Syria, Al Qaeda and certain Al Qaeda elements in Iraq under Zarqawi have also made use of vitriolic rhetoric against the State of Israel. Iran is threatening Israel with total destruction and the development of nuclear facilities in Iran is a means towards that end. When it comes to hate of Israel there is unity of ranks between the Shiite and Sunni Islamist extremists. Their hate goes beyond the Israeli occupation of territory captured in the Six Day War.

President Thabo Mbeki has false sense of illusions if he feels that he will be able to bridge this gap of hate by relating it to the South African experience and teaching Hamas and Co the lessons South Africans had learned from the demise of apartheid. The basic ingredients for the promotion of a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians are not there.

The desire to achieve peace must come from both sides to the conflict. We all desire an end to the conflict and the establishment of a Palestinian State living at peace with Israel in dignity and respect between both sides. New, imaginative ideas for ending the conflict are now even further from fruition than ever before with the Hamas controlled Palestinian Authority. Abu Mazen is not a factor anymore in this situation, which is a great pity.

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