Address by Deputy Minister Pahad to the South African Zionist Conference, 10 March 2002

Mr Chairman, the Honourable Mr Abe Abrahamson,
Honoured Guests,
Your Excellency Mr Sallai Meridor, Chairman of the Jewish Agency
Your Excellency the Ambassador of Israel, Ms Tova Herzl
Mr Yechiel Lekhet, Chairman of the Jewish National Fund
Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Mr Cyril Harris
The Honourable Tony Leon MP, Leader of the Official Opposition
Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to thank you for the opportunity to address your 45th Conference today on the topic of South Africa's relations with the State of Israel.

As we meet this afternoon, events are unfolding which will have a profound effect on our international relations. I refer here to the Inter Congolese Dialogue, events in Angola after the death of Jonas Savimbi and the elections in Zimbabwe.

Some seven years ago, South Africa's Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo told a similar gathering to this one, that Jews in South Africa should be able to practice their Zionism, religion and culture without hindrance or questions being raised about their patriotism and love for South Africa. As Minister Nzo expressed it, Jews are free to love South Africa, their homeland and also to love Israel, the Jewish State, and to manifest freely their support for the well-being of the peoples of South Africa and the Jewish people of Israel.

Secondly, Minister Nzo recognised that there is a close linkage existing between the state of relations between South Africa and the State of Israel. Associated with this, he acknowledged that good relations between both states naturally provide an enhanced sense of well-being to the Jewish community in South Africa.

He also made it clear that continuation of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians would threaten international peace and indeed even South Africa's own domestic tranquility. Therefore, it was vital for South Africa to support those hopeful efforts started in Washington in September 1993. This, among other things, has compelled us to build strong links with Israelis and Palestinians at Governmental and non-governmental level.

I would like to take this opportunity today to once again repeat that these central principles of policy enunciated by the late Minister Nzo, are as applicable today as they were at that time.

Let me give you the assurance today that South Africa's policy, in respect of its relations with Israel and its support for the achievement of a Palestinian State, are predicated upon the fundamental principle of unequivocal and unchanging support for the right of the State of Israel to exist with defined borders, in full peace and security with its neighbours.

This fundamental position has been the long-standing policy of the ANC, both in exile and now in government. It has not changed and it will not change in the future.

South Africa maintains full diplomatic relations with the State of Israel. Both nations have ambassadors serving in the respective countries and I want to say that the extent of our diplomatic dialogue is not only substantial and cordial, it is also good!

Despite our public differences over Israel's military policies in respect of the Palestinians, the character of our diplomatic exchange and the substance of relations between the two countries, remains strong, extensive and broad ranging and there has been no change in that from 1994 until today.

In respect of the diplomatic dialogue and exchange with the Government of Israel which I have just mentioned, I want to assure you that this does not stop at extensive contact between Ambassador Herzl in South Africa and South African Ambassador Marx in Israel, with officials of the respective Departments of Foreign Affairs, it also consists of the highest possible levels of contacts between both Governments.

There is ongoing exchange between President Mbeki and President Katzav, Prime Minister Sharon and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres. The last such personal contact being as recent as President Mbeki's visit to New York last month.

The Government of South Africa cares deeply about the need for peace and security for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. That is why the South African Government has devoted considerable time, effort and resources to try and keep the hope for peace alive for Israelis and Palestinians in this terrible time of crisis.

It was precisely the commitment to this principle of keeping the hope for peace alive between Israelis and Palestinians which prompted President Mbeki to invite Israeli and Palestinian leaders, who have shown an unswerving commitment to an unconditional dialogue about peace between both peoples to South Africa to attend the Spier Peace Retreat at the beginning of January.

The South African Government does not share the view of Israel's Prime Minister, Mr Ariel Sharon, that "only after (the Palestinians) are beaten will we be able to hold talks."

The South African Government has never believed that an army can defeat by military might, the striving of a people for freedom. This is the fundamental point of difference in approach between the Government of South Africa and the Government of Israel on the extent to which the use of armed force can be deployed to try and restore peace and security against the wishes of dogged people committed to their own liberation.

Equally, the South African Government does not believe that the Palestinian people will achieve their dream of liberation and the dignity of statehood, through brutal and horrendous acts of terrorism committed against the citizens of Israel in their streets, suburbs and cities.

South Africa has been as unequivocal in its condemnation of the military policies of the Government of Israel, as it has been of Palestinian terrorist attacks against the citizens of Israel.

We have not been alone in adopting this position. For example, the United States, Israel's staunchest ally, has had repeated cause to express its deepest concern to the Government of Israel about the desperate consequences of its ongoing escalation in the use of massive military force against Palestinian institutions. Most recently, Secretary of State, Colin Powell commented that "Prime Minister Sharon has to take a hard look at his policies and see whether they will work. If you declare war on the Palestinians and think that you can solve the problem, by seeing how many Palestinians can be killed - I don't know that, that leads us anywhere." This view is also widely shared as the position of the European Union, major Western powers and in the United Nations.

The South African Government believes that peace cannot be achieved in this type of conflict through the application of overwhelming military force nor can it be achieved under prevailing conditions, through demands that negotiations and dialogue about peace can only commence in the absence of hostilities and violence. Too many people on both sides of this conflict are dead and maimed to hold on to this unrealistic and unachievable principle.

In this regard, it cannot be forgotten that our nation faced a similar challenge and we dealt with it differently and successfully. In the period between the release of former President Nelson Mandela, at the beginning of February 1990, until the first democratic elections in April 1994, more than 10,000 South Africans died in politically motivated violence in this country. Where would this nation have been today, if that requirement had been set as a basis for the political dialogue that enabled this country's leaders to achieve a negotiated and peaceful settlement to our problems?

A policy which demands a total end to all violence before negotiations can begin, is ultimately a policy which places in the hands of the men of violence, the right to veto any discussion and engagement on an agenda for peace.

It is for this reason that we are pleased to note Prime Minister Sharon's commitment to commence discussions with the Palestinians without a continued insistence on seven days of calm. We are also heartened by the American decision to return General Zinni to the region and the EU response to try and move discussions forward once again. We are equally supportive of efforts to enhance the prospects for the Saudi Arabian proposal.

The reasons for this are obvious. The South African Government does not believe that the conflict between Israel and its Palestinian neighbour and peace partner, is either intractable nor inevitable. It had a beginning and, with goodwill on both sides, it will have an end!

While we can argue whether this approach is right or not, we cannot accept that a willingness on the part of the Government of South Africa, to express publicly its criticism of Israeli's military approach to defeat Palestinian aspirations with military might, is either anti-Israeli or anti-Zionist or indeed, anti-Semitic.

We do however, recognise that such a view is held and was given greater impetus after the disgraceful events surrounding the non-governmental organisation conference which was held on the fringes of the United Nations World Conference against Racism in Durban, during August last year.

I wish to make it unequivocally clear that the South African Government recognises that part of that component was hi-jacked and used by some with an anti-Israeli agenda to turn it into an anti-Semitic event. Recognition of this, however, was precisely the reason for the refusal of the world's governments at that Conference to accept the final statement of NGO proceedings into the final document of the Conference.

Additionally, the South African Government as Chair, worked hard to ensure an acceptable and honourable outcome of the final document which avoided singling out Israel for exclusive criticism in regard to the current crisis in the Middle East.

So successful were our efforts in this regard, that our President was personally thanked for South Africa's role in ensuring that outcome by the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Israel, Shimon Peres. Mr Peres went further and also expressed himself publicly in this regard.

I know from considerable exchanges I have had with the leadership of the South African Jewish community, since that event, that Jewish civil society organisations from around the world who experienced the shocking manifestations of anti-Semitism we all saw on CNN, etc have another perspective.

It must be understood however, that the South African Government cannot be held responsible for atrocious behaviour by some extremists, who abused the constitutional right to freedom of speech afforded to all persons in South Africa. It is important to recall that many of these people were self-invited, mandated by no one other than themselves and funded by generous government grants from the Western democracies. We also have to take account of the fact that the media often see in such extremist behaviour, the story of the day and resultantly give such people publicity they do not deserve. There does thus need to be a greater focus on media responsibility in publicising and over emphasising such extremism.

The South African Government, as a host to such events, has certainly learned lessons from this bad experience. This said however, the South African Government cannot accept the proposition that, the inability of UN structures to control the behaviour of anti-Semitic extremists at a fringe event of the Conference, automatically defines the outcome of the inter-Governmental proceedings - the main event of the Conference - as a failure, or as anti-Semitic.

This does not mean however, that note has not been taken of the deep concerns expressed by South African Jewish leaders about the unacceptable manifestations of anti-Semitism which were present during these fringe of Conference proceedings. In fact, as a Government that is committed to an unmitigated countering of any racist agenda, we are well aware that anti-Semitism very often rears its ugly head as among the first types of racism that appear in modern societies. It is, therefore, the first form of racism which has to be countered, whenever and wherever it emerges.

The President's invitation to the Israeli peace camp to join him and the Palestinian peace camp in a three day retreat, focussing on how to advance the agenda for peace between Israel and Palestine, speaks volumes about the commitment of this Government to ensuring that Israelis may live side-by-side in peace and security with their Palestinian neighbours.

This retreat afforded those not inconsiderable elements in Israeli society which, despite the present crisis, have taken the opportunity to put, what most South Africans perceive to be, Israel's best foot forward - the search for a political solution to the ongoing suffering on both sides in the present conflict.

This government and this nation believe in the power of peace makers to make a difference. We believe in peace makers' ability to change conflict into conciliation and mutual recognition of each side's inherent dignity. We do not believe in bombardment, whether by helicopter gunships, tanks, Kalashnikov rifles or human bombs.

The South African Government, for this reason, unequivocally supports those in Israel who pursue an unconditional agenda for peace. This is not a narrow commitment to an Israeli political party, it is a commitment of support to all elements in Israeli society who believe that peace can be won back from the ruins and tragedy of present events. This is our hope and vision for Israel and Palestine.

In this regard, I have to mention before ending, that the South African Government's diplomatic dialogue and exchange with the Government of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority, is unequivocally predicated upon conveying this message over and over again.

In all our public statements, South Africa has never taken a step backwards from the sanctity of the policy statement which I commenced this address with. Namely, the right of the State of Israel to exist within defined borders, in peace and security with its neighbours. Equally, we have never sought to justify or "water down" our utter condemnation of any terrorist outrage committed against the civilian population of Israel. These are immutable pillars of our policy.

This does not mean however, that we do not hear and do not see, increasing voices of dissent in Israeli society about the consequences of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories or the futility of attempts to achieve military solutions.

No nation's security can be predicated upon the occupation and suppression of another nation.

In this regard, I want to quote from an article entitled "The War's Seventh Day" which appeared in Israel's daily Haaretz newspaper, a week ago. These are not the ravings of a far-left wing "peacenik" but the views of a highly respected Israeli jurist, Mr Michael Ben-Yair, a former Attorney-General of the State of Israel, who served during the prime ministership of the late and great, Yitzchak Rabin.


"The Zionist dream's realisation and the Jewish people's national rebirth …… were not achieved because of …… tanks, planes or other aggressive means. The State of Israel was born because the Zionist movement realised it must find a solution to Jewish persecution and because the enlightened world recognised the need for that solution.

"The Six Day War was forced upon us; however, the war's seventh day which began on June 12, 1967, has continued to this day. It is the product of our choice.

"The Six Day War's seventh day has transformed us from a moral society sure of the justice of Israel's creation, into a society that oppresses another people, preventing it from realising its legitimate national aspirations.


We cannot ignore the fact that the so-called "Four Mother's Movement" which was established on the 4th March 1997 which played a key-role in bringing about Israel's withdrawal from its futile 18-year war in Southern Lebanon, has now reconstituted itself as a movement called "The Seventh Day" - the day that will follow and complete the Six Day War, 35 years after it began.

We cannot ignore the daily growing conscientious objectors movement in Israel, now more than 300 soldiers, leaders of elite battalions who question the morality of the Defence Forces of a democratic nation oppressing the people of another society.

We cannot ignore the public response of the Council for Peace and Security, a group of over 1,000 top-level reserve generals and colonels from the IDF, from the Shin-Bet and Mossad, who have committed themselves to mount a public campaign for an Israeli withdrawal from all of Gaza and most of the West Bank "whether there is a cease-fire or not."

We cannot ignore the fact that recent rallies in favour of peace, called by the peace camp in Israel, have been attended by up to 15,000 people. A far cry from the half a million people who demonstrated against the War in Lebanon in the 1980's, but a creditable and meaningful beginning at a time when Israeli civilians are being brutally killed in ever growing numbers on the streets of their cities.

We cannot ignore the fact that Israelis are living in a state of siege and growing insecurity. We are, however, greatly encouraged that there are growing numbers of Israelis who are saying there is another way. From this we see that the hope for peace is growing in Israeli society even in the midst of the current terrible cycle of violence. When an editorial writer can write "that a gruesome equation of blood is being created, an equation that is spinning into an escalation neither side can halt. A murderous Palestinian terrorist attack produces an escalating Israeli response, which, in turn, produces another horrible act of vengeance and the whole bloody, vicious cycle goes on and on," this shows that Israelis increasingly understand that the cycle of violence, terrorism and bombardment bring no security and that there is another alternative.

This growing movement towards support once again for negotiations about peace, will also give strength and encouragement to Palestinian leaders who desire a peaceful solution and help to isolate the extremist men of violence.

Chairman, we have no peace plan for Israelis and Palestinians. But South Africa has an abiding faith and commitment to assist both societies to draw on their deepest resources of common humanity and re-build a renewed hope for peace.

This vision cannot be achieved through an exclusive support for one side of a conflict. It can only be based upon a commitment to the dignity and right of both Israel and Palestine to exist in peace and security, side by side. This hope and commitment is as mutually dependant for success or failure on the response of one society as it is on that of the other. After all is said and done, the similar sentiments of Yitzchak Rabin and Nelson Mandela are as true today as when they were uttered nearly a decade ago. "You make peace with your enemies not with your friends. Peace makes enemies into friends."

For the sake of Israeli and Palestinian children, we must intensity our efforts to ensure that negotiations based on the Tenet Proposals and Mitchell Plan can start without further delay.

The pre-requisite for a prosperous State of Israel living within defined and secure borders and in peace with its neighbours, is an independent Palestinian State committed to its own peace and prosperity side by side with its neighbour Israel.

I thank you.

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