South Africa’s response to Israel’s decision to declare the cave of the Patriachs and Rachel’s tomb in the West Bank to be National Heritage sites

The South African Government has noted with concern Israel's decision to declare the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem in the West Bank to be national heritage sites. South Africa is aware of the statement made by Palestinian President Mahoud Abbas that this move by Israel was a dangerous provocation which could result in a religious war or intifada between Israelis and Palestinians. President Abbas added that Israel was obliged to protect the freedom of religion of all faiths at all holy sites.

South Africa maintains that this decision by Israel  regarding these holy shrines in two West Bank cities imperils attempts to achieve a negotiated solution to the conflict, namely that of two states, Israel and Palestine, existing side by side in peace within internationally recognised borders. South Africa emphasises that this action by Israel is being seen as another attempt to extend its control over the West Bank and create facts on the ground, which will make a peaceful resolution of the conflict increasingly difficult. South Africa reiterates that these actions on the part of Israel makes a resumption of negotiations under the stalled Middle East Peace Process much more complicated.  

The South African Government is aware that there have been widespread demonstrations by Palestinians in Jerusalem and Hebron in response to these latest moves by Israel. South Africa also supports the response of the United States, which called Israel’s decision provocative and unhelpful to the goal of restarting peace talks.

South Africa emphasises that these actions on the part of Israel are contrary to the will of the international community, as expressed in United Nations Security Council resolutions 242, 338, 1515, as well as the Arab Peace Initiative.  South Africa is deeply concerned that these activities by Israel will only serve to deepen the cycle of violence in the region. As an occupying power, Israel has specific and clear obligations under international law.

South Africa also calls on Israel to immediately cease all settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory and to abstain from further actions in East Jerusalem that can lead to an escalation of violence in the region.          

For further information please contact Nomfanelo Kota on 082 459 3787
Department of International Relations and Cooperation
Private Bag x152
Pretoria
0001

07 March 2010

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