Host Government Statement at the United Nations African Meeting on the Question of Palestine, hosted at the Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria Wednesday, 09 May 2007, by Dr. EG Pahad, Minister The Presidency

Honourable Mr Al Abed, the Minister of Public Works and Housing, Palestinian Authority;
Representatives of African Governments;
Representatives of the UN, AU and other multi lateral institutions;
Your Excellencies and friends

On behalf of the Government of South Africa and President Thabo Mbeki please allow me to welcome you to what we hope will be a fruitful dialogue that will have a lasting impact on our collective search for a just and peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict. We in South Africa are honoured to be a part of this first United Nations Committee meeting in a developing country since the formation of the Palestinian Unity Government

2007 marks the 40th Anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and in the intervening years the conditions of the people of Palestine have deteriorated and the search for peace in the Middle East still remains elusive. The Middle East region is of geo-political and strategic importance based on its influence on global peace and security as well as its critical resources.

As an ardent proponent of global peace and stability, South Africa recognizes that peace in the Middle East will not be possible without finding a just, comprehensive and lasting solution to this conflict.

South Africa's commitment to multilateralism and respect for the role of the United Nations (UN) in furthering global peace and security stems from our policy on the Middle East Peace Process - which is firmly based on all the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, including UNSC resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515, the Road Map as well as the Oslo frame of reference.

In concert with the UN positions and resolutions, emerging reports are that the united Arab position is to push for the implementation of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. As you know this plan is not a difficult one to implement - it essentially calls for the return of all Palestinian land based on the 1967 borders and on the basis of a genuine attempt to establish a Palestinian state living side by side and in peace with Israel.

South Africa urges Israel to seize this opportunity presented in the current conjuncture to begin serious negotiations to normalise relations and therefore create the conditions for a solution in the region as enunciated in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.

The position of our Government is very clear, and consistent with the relevant UN resolutions and the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, we urge the international community to:

1) Give unconditional recognition to and engage in dialogue with the Palestinian Unity Government.

2) Lift all sanctions against the Palestinian government.

3) Release the very substantial funds withheld from the Palestinian National Authority; and

4) Recognise and take appropriate action to address the humanitarian crisis facing the Palestinian people.

South Africa's policy on the Middle East Peace Process is informed by the following principles:

1) The inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and independence, which entails a principled position against the military occupation of the Palestinian people and their land;

2) A belief that there can be no military solution to the conflict and that peaceful negotiation is the only means of ensuring lasting peace, security and stability;

3) A commitment to multilateralism in order to secure a sustainable solution; and

4) Taking our lead from the people of Palestine as they articulate both their grievances and their demands and vision for the future.

South Africa believes that until a comprehensive, just and permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is found, the Middle East region will not be able to realise its full potential and will remain a key source of instability and thus a threat to world peace and security.

Since 1994, our Government has consistently condemned the presence and expansion of settlements as being in violation of international law, in particular article 49, paragraph 6 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Today there are some 460,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The construction of the Separation Wall we believe does not represent a legitimate security measure. The Separation Wall, with a total projected length of 700 kilometres, twice the length of the Green Line, will effectively become a de facto border. In this regard, South Africa presented a written legal argument to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and also participated in the oral deliberations in The Hague on 23 February 2004. In his Report John Dugard, a South African law professor who is the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, dismissed Israel's argument that the sole purpose of the vast concrete and steel West Bank barrier is for security: "It has become abundantly clear that the wall and checkpoints are principally aimed at advancing the safety, convenience and comfort of settlers," he said. It is essence an Apartheid wall.

Our government is totally committed to the principles and practice of democracy and as such recognises the will of the Palestinian peoples as expressed in the last elections. We also note that the most positive developments in the region in recent months are clearly the Mecca agreement in February 2007 that brought Hamas and Fatah together in a government of national unity and the Arab League Summit in Riyadh in March 2007 that reiterated adherence to the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002.

The latter offers Israel full normalization of relations with the Arab League's 22 countries in exchange for full withdrawal from Arab territories occupied in 1976 and a negotiated resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem. Israel on 29 March 2007, following the Arab League Summit, issued a statement declaring that: "Israel is sincerely interested in pursuing dialogue with those Arab states that desire peace with Israel. For this purpose a direct dialogue. between Israel and the Palestinians is necessary. Israel also believes that moderate Arab states can fill a positive role by encouraging regional cooperation, and supporting the Israel-Palestinian track. A dialogue between these states and Israel can contribute to this end". This approach constitutes a serious step forward but we recognise that the road ahead is still arduous.

President Mbeki on 16 February 2007 wrote, "The balance of power in this regard decisively favours Israel. To end the destructive conflict that has gone on for far too long, will require the wisdom and courage of the more powerful. The positive results that both the Israeli and Palestinian people pray for will not come of their own accord.

They will come about as a result of conscious and deliberate actions which must be taken in the first instance by the more powerful. Each positive step towards a just peace will create the conditions for the next positive step towards a just peace, until the process towards a just and permanent peace develops an organic logic and momentum that convinces all antagonists that to resort to violence is to turn the guns against the irreversible prospect of peace and security for all.

But it is imperative that the first step is taken, the first building block of peace put in place, without waiting for the perfect conditions for the construction of peace, because those perfect conditions will never amount to anything more than a dream forever deferred. The moment demands that all those charged with the responsibility to lead should dare to sue for peace, inspired by the same courage with which they have dared to go to war."

These views expressed by President Mbeki demand inspired and creative leadership in the interests of the Palestinian and Israeli people, the region and international peace, security and stability.

To South Africa, it is clear that the call for a new diplomatic strategy involving all role-players in the Middle East is increasingly being echoed by many players in the US body politick and internationally.

The Baker-Hamilton Report for example emphasises the point that the problems in the Middle East and Asia are integrated and a key aspect to a regional solution is the Palestinian issue. It observes that the United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict. Thus there must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon, Syria, and President Bush's June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine said clearly,

  • There can be no military solution to this conflict;
  • The vast majority of the Israeli body politick is tired of being a nation perpetually at war;
  • Political engagement and dialogue are essential in the Arab-Israeli dispute; and
  • The only basis on which peace can be achieved is that set forth in UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and in the principle of "land for peace.".

Therefore it is our view that there must be a renewed and sustained commitment to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts. This effort should include the unconditional calling and holding of meetings, under the auspices of the United Nations, between Israel and Lebanon and Syria on the one hand, and Israelis and Palestinians on the other. The purpose of these meetings would be to negotiate peace as was done at the Madrid Conference in 1991, and on two separate tracks.

Concerning the Palestinian issue, elements of that negotiated peace of necessity should include:

  • Adherence to UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and to the principle of land for peace, which are the foundation for achieving peace;
  • Consolidation of the cease-fire reached between the Palestinians and the Israelis in November 2006;
  • Support for a Palestinian national unity government;
  • Resolution of the fiscal and humanitarian crisis facing the Palestinians; and
  • Sustainable negotiations leading to a final peace settlement, which would address the key final status issues of borders, settlements, Jerusalem, the right of return, and the end of conflict.

The UN Under-Secretary General Ibrahim Gambari in a report to the Security Council stressed: "None of us can afford another year like the last one in Lebanon and the Middle East". Therefore a resumed political process between Israel and the Palestinians was a clear priority. The massive destruction of Lebanon, including the death of many civilians, by the Israeli invasion is a constant reminder of the consequences of our failure to deal with the issue of the independence of Palestine. All sides have a shared responsibility to resolve their political differences through the democratic process and in a peaceful manner, in order to spare their populations further anxiety, insecurity and turmoil.

South Africa is equally concerned about the humanitarian crisis now engulfing Palestine. A report by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that one-third of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are food insecure and becoming dependent on food aid. Poverty has risen because of international sanctions, compounded by Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinian goods and labour related to security concerns. Key segments of the international community also cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas won parliamentary elections last year.

The United Nations Report noted that the resultant weakening of the Palestinian economy has also made previously secure workers - such as fisherman, farmers, and small traders - increasingly desperate. According to the Report, "Many people, who cannot afford to buy food, have been forced to sell off valuable assets such as land or tools".

About 34% of Palestinians cannot afford a balanced meal and another 12% are at risk of reaching this state, the organisations found in a Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Assessment published this month. Most affected is the Gaza Strip, where 51% of the population suffers from food insecurity.

"The poorest families are now living a meagre existence totally reliant on assistance, with no electricity or heating and eating food prepared with water from bad sources," according to a statement by Arnold Vercken, the WFP country director for the occupied Palestinian territories.

"Without a political resolution - and particularly removal of restrictions on movement - improvement in the humanitarian situation is unlikely and millions will remain dependent on assistance," noted the FAO/WFP report. "A substantive injection of aid and social transfers has partially cushioned the declining humanitarian situation in Palestine, but aid cannot fully compensate for the loss of self-reliance."

Oxfam has called on the European Union not to miss what it called an "opportunity to restore the faith of the Palestinian people in the Europeans' role as an honest broker" of the Middle East peace process. Oxfam International Executive Director Jeremy Hobbs said that "International aid should be provided impartially on the basis of need, not as a political tool to change the policies of a government", and he continued, "With Palestinian institutions collapsing and insecurity growing, the resumption of international aid to the Palestinian Authority is a necessary step to preventing further suffering and securing a just and lasting settlement on the basis of international law".

The EU was the biggest aid donor to the Palestinian government until Hamas came to power in March 2006. Since then, the EU has redirected its aid, worth 700m euros (US $943m) in 2006, through a special mechanism to help the neediest people while bypassing the government to avoid contact with Hamas.

The new Palestinian Finance Minister, Salam Fayyad, told EU leaders in Brussels on Wednesday 11 April 2007 that his government urgently needed a resumption of funds. Mr Fayyad said that one billion euros ($1.35bn; £681m) in aid was still needed this year in order to avert a deepening of the crisis. South Africa is of the view that it is imperative that the global community and in particular the most powerful countries in the global community of nations work assiduously to deal with this humanitarian crisis.

John Dugard in his Report has likened Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories to apartheid South Africa and says there should be "serious consideration" over bringing the occupation to the international court of justice. Professor Dugard said although Israel and apartheid South Africa were different regimes, "Israel's laws and practices in the OPT [occupied Palestinian territories] certainly resemble aspects of apartheid."

After describing the situation for Palestinians in the West Bank, with closed zones, demolitions and preference given to settlers on roads, with building rights and by the army, he said: "Can it seriously be denied that the purpose of such action is to establish and maintain domination by one racial group (Jews) over another racial group (Palestinians) and systematically oppressing them? Israel denies that this is its intention or purpose. But such an intention or purpose may be inferred from the actions described in this report."

Gaza remained under occupation despite the withdrawal of settlers in 2005. Professor Dugard noted that: "In effect, following Israel's withdrawal, Gaza became a sealed-off, imprisoned and occupied territory". He said his mandate was solely to report on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories. And he described as a violation of international humanitarian law the firing of rockets by Palestinians from Gaza into Israel. "Such actions cannot be condoned and clearly constitute a war crime," he said. "Nevertheless, Israel's response has been grossly disproportionate and indiscriminate and resulted in the commission of multiple war crimes."

Israel's policy of extra-judicial killings is in direct violation of international law that protects basic human rights, such as the right to a free and fair trial. The policy also violates the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, to which Israel is a High Contracting Party. South Africa strongly condemns the Israeli government's policy of collective punishment and the consistent destruction of Palestinian infrastructure as a means of weakening the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and its efforts towards state building. At the same time, South Africa will continue to condemn all forms of violence against civilians by all parties involved in the conflict including Palestinian suicide bombings.

In conclusion allow me to say that our objectives for this important conference and the measures of its success include:

  1. Demonstrating African and UN alignment on, and joint commitment to, the establishment of a viable Palestinian State, in the context of the two state solution, at the earliest possible moment. The international community needs to be mobilised in support of and in solidarity with the Palestinians in their struggle for an independent state.
  2. Creating more awareness on the African continent of the potentially serious negative consequences of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the international community.
  3. Demonstrating African solidarity with the Palestinian people and encouraging greater sub-Saharan African involvement at a time when this support appears to be declining and some African delegations are no longer supporting Palestine at the UN.
  4. Ensuring that the Palestinian issue forms part of the African Union (AU) and South African Development Community (SADC) agendas.
  5. Supporting the UN's political work on the Middle East peace process - and in particular the Division for Palestinian Rights and the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People - which goes beyond addressing only humanitarian issues.
  6. Promoting an informed understanding of South Africa's foreign policy towards the Middle East, specifically regarding the Middle East Peace Process, in Africa.
  7. Calling for an end to the Israel, US and EU imposed sanctions against the Palestinian government.
  8. Offering a platform to the UN to maintain and enhance the internationalisation of the Palestinian issue.
  9. Offering an opportunity to officially record recent developments such as the growing poverty in Palestine as well as the continued growth of settlements, human rights abuse by the occupying power, land confiscations, the status of political prisoners, etc.
  10. Strengthening South Africa's role in the Middle East Peace Process.
  11. Offering an opportunity to the Palestinian Diaspora, specifically Palestinian academics, to participate and contribute to finding a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict; and
  12. Ensuring inclusion of members of Hamas in a UN meeting as part of an effort to support the Palestinian unity government and erode the West's sanctions and isolation strategy and the UN Secretariat's policy of non-engagement with Hamas.

South Africa will work diligently with all parties to secure a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. We will work within the Security Council and the Non-Aligned Movement, and bilaterally to convince the powers that be that this is an opportunity that should not be missed. The Arab initiatives and the role of United Nations Security Council must be strengthened, for a truly multi-lateral approach is the surest path to a successful resolution of the Middle East crisis.

Thank you.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152
Pretoria
0001

9 May 2007

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