Speech by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Aziz Pahad to the Parliamentary Debate on the Middle East Crisis on Thursday 17 August 2006, Cape Town

The civil war in Iraq, the deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan, the inability to deal with the Palestinian issue, the war in Lebanon all reflects that we are living in the most dangerous times in the last 50 years. I am sure that we all agree that events in the Middle East continue to threaten international peace and security.

We are faced with a complex situation with several inter-related dimensions, consisting primarily of security issues, geo-strategic interests, control of oil resources". The strategic objective to carve out a "New Middle East" and an increasing militaristic approach to combat the threat of terrorism. A logical consequence of this reality was reflected by Caspit a leading Israeli columnist who commented that "Israel is dealing with radical, messianic Islam, which extend its arms like an octopus, creating an axis from Tehran to Gaza by way of Damascus and Beirut. With people like these there is nothing to talk about. The fire of a war against infidels burns in them.

Another commentator, Ron-Ben-Yishai wrote " the only fitting response in this is a military one in order to create a new strategic balance between us and radical Islam".

These forces refuse to accept that the Palestinian issue is the key issue that needs to be resolved if there is to be long-term peace and stability in the Middle East.

The South African government policy on the Palestinian-Israeli issue is driven b the Oslo Agreement, the Arab Plan of 2002, the Road Map and various UN Resolutions, which have concluded that the only viable solution is a two-state solution; i.e. a viable Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders living side by side with a secure Israeli state.

The Road Map to achieve this objective driven by the Quartet [UN, EU, USA, Russia] unfortunately has not made any significant progress.

The UNSC has also been ineffective.

In the absence of any progress, to find a political solution, the Palestinian resistance continued and Israeli military action in occupied Palestine was intensified; vast majority of Palestinians in the occupied territories literally have became prisoners. Israeli settlements continued to be expanded, the Wall [determined to be illegal by the ICJ] continued to be built, the Palestinian Authority continued to be weakened and poverty continued to increase.

In an already difficult and volatile situation, Hamas swept into power in a democratic, free and fair election.

Israel, the USA and the EU imposed severe sanctions against the Hamas led government. This, interalia, resulted in all donor funding being stopped; Israel withholding millions of dollars due to the Palestinians and the movement of goods, services and people was further restricted.

The South African government believes that such a response to a democratic process does not help us to create conditions for peace, stability and prosperity in the Middle East.

The newly elected Israeli government announced that they did not have partners to negotiate with and would have to consider unilateral actions to determine secure borders.

We also believe that any unilaterally imposed solution will not be accepted and will be a recipe for more violence.

We welcomed the results of a free and fair election and believe that we can't campaign for democracy and when the people democratically elect their government we then refuse to accept the will of the people. Objective to interact constructively with the Hamas leadership to convince them that they came to power because of the Oslo Agreement and UN Resolutions and therefore in the interest of the Palestinian people they should comply with these agreements.

I am pleased to report that all Palestinian groups adopted the "Prisoners document", in terms of which a government of national unity would be established; a two-state solution would be accepted and all violence would be suspended.

A few hours after this historic development and when the prospects of a united Palestinian approach to seek a negotiated solution had become a reality an Israeli soldier was captured by Palestinian militants.

This resulted in a massive military offensive against the Palestinians, which has resulted in the destruction of most of the remaining infrastructure in Gaza. This has caused hundreds of more deaths and casualties. This, coupled with the Israeli closure of crossing points and the sanctions imposed has resulted in a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.

All this combined with the arrest of many Hamas Ministers and Parliamentarians; the destruction of many government institutions; the continuing extra-judicial killings; the prevention of movement of Palestinians from the West Bank to Gaza has practically led to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority.

On another front the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hizbollah in Lebanon also resulted in a massive military offensive against Lebanon.

Much of Lebanon's villages, towns and infrastructure have been destroyed. Over a thousand have been killed and many more injured [mostly children, women and elderly]. Over a million Lebanese have been displaced, and a catastrophic humanitarian tragedy created.

Analysis

Israel's disproportionate use of force and the collective punishment of people in Palestine and Lebanon violate international law and the Geneva Convention and many have called it "war crimes".

Such military actions resulting in so many civilian casualties can't justify any security concerns.

Reality

1.1 Increased support for Hizbollah and Hamas.

1.2 Arab "streets" volatile.

1.2.1 Threat to moderate governments in region.

1.3 Unprecedented anti-Americanism; and the potential for increased terrorism.

1.4 Iranian dimension.

1.5 Syria dimension.

It is unacceptable that while the carnage continued for five weeks and the possibility of the conflict engulfing the whole region was becoming a reality the Security Council was immobilised.

Events have proved that this approach was unrealistic and dangerous.

Finally, after much death and destruction a resolution calling for immediate cessation of hostilities was passed by the UNSC. Despite some misgivings the Resolution has been accepted by the Lebanese government, Israel and the international community. The truce is holding and we have called on all parties to maintain the cessation of hostilities. The UNSC must seek a comprehensive solution based on UN Resolutions and the Lebanese Prime Minister's 7-point plan.

Prime Minister Siniora's 7-point plan
An immediate and comprehensive cease-fire and a declaration of agreement on the following issues:

a- An undertaking to release the Lebanese and Israeli prisoners and detainees through the ICRC.


b- The withdrawal of the Israeli army behind the Blue Line, and the return of the displaced to their villages.

c- A commitment from the Security Council to place the Shebaa Farms area and the Kfarshouba Hills under UN jurisdiction until border delineation and Lebanese sovereignty over them are fully settled. While in UN custody, the area will be accessible to Lebanese property owners there. Further, Israel surrenders all remaining landmine maps in South Lebanon to the UN.

d- The Lebanese government extends its authority over its territory through its own legitimate armed forces, such that there will be no weapons or authority other than that of the Lebanese state as stipulated in the Taef national reconciliation document.

e- The UN international force, operating in South Lebanon, is supplemented and enhanced in numbers, equipment, mandate and scope of operation, as needed, in order to undertake urgent humanitarian and relief work and guarantee stability and security in the south so that those who fled their homes can return.

f- The UN, in co-operation with the relevant parties, undertakes the necessary measures to once again put into effect the Armistice Agreement signed by Lebanon and Israel in 1949, and to insure adherence to the provisions of that agreement, as well as to explore possible amendments to or development of said provisions, as necessary.

g- The international community commits to support Lebanon on all levels, and to assist it in facing the tremendous burden resulting from the human, social and economic tragedy which has afflicted the country, especially in the areas of relief, reconstruction and rebuilding of the national economy.

Deputy Speaker

Humanity is consciously marching towards an abyss, which will result in a disaster.

Today the whole region is in turmoil. At the beginning of the war against the Lebanese 85% of the Israeli population supported Israel's military offensive. Today there are serious divisions within the Israeli society.

There are also the dangers of a "backlash" from Arab "streets" and governments. All these factors are making a new catastrophic regional war a reality.

Parliament has the responsibility to ensure that the international community accepts its responsibility, discard its failed policies and genuinely and urgently take decisive steps to solve the root cause of instability i.e. the creation of a viable Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders living side by side with a secure Israeli state.

Nobody who has seen the graphic consequences of the Israeli military offensive in Lebanon, can not remain shocked and angered

Parliament must constructively and critically express its view that collective punishment, violation of international law and the Geneva Convention is unacceptable.

Anger and concern of millions of people throughout the world is manifesting itself in South Africa.

All parties must co-operate to ensure that the conflict between the Palestinian and Israelis do not spill into our streets.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152
Pretoria
0001

17 August 2006

 

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