Statement by Mr Aziz Pahad, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Closing Session United Nations African Meeting on the Question of Palestine, 10 May 2007, Pretoria


H.E. Mr Paul Badji, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Right of the Palestinian People
H.E. Mr Camilleri, Rapporteur of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Right of the Palestinian People
Mr Tuliameni Kalomoh, Assistant Secretary for Political Affairs, Representative of the UNSG
Excellencies
Delegates from abroad and South Africa

"Heed not the blind eye, the echoing ear, not yet the tongue, but bring to this great debate the test of reason"

Parmenides - Greek philosopher, 5th century

Over the last two days, delegates at this important conference have tried to bring reason and truth to the burning issue of Palestinian self determination. We have heard moving testimony and convincing arguments. We have re-affirmed that the Palestinian inalienable right to self determination and statehood represents the steadfastness, hopes and dreams of 3.95 million Palestinians living in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. It represents the challenges of identity and belonging of the 1.1 million Palestinians living in the State of Israel. It represents the longing of 2.8 million Palestinians in Jordan, 1.6 million in other Arab states and the .56 million in other countries. It represents the yearning for the normality that only comes from being able to call your home - home.

To achieve this vision the Palestinian people need solidarity.

South Africa was privileged in July 2004 to co-host with the United Nations (UN) the UN African Meeting on the Question of Palestine. As we, once again, yesterday, welcomed delegates to our country for this Conference "African Solidarity with the Palestinian people for the achievement of its inalienable rights" we realize that we do so in a world very different from the one in 2004. We are acutely conscious of the threat to regional and international peace and security because of humanity's continuing failure to resolve the Palestinian demand for self-determination.

Speakers have reminded us yesterday that for nearly 60 years now the Palestinian people have been a stateless people and for 40 years, this year, the Palestinian people have been suffering under the oppressive and belligerent Israeli military occupation of their land.

Various speakers also noted that the Palestinians are facing a humanitarian tragedy. Poverty has now spread to 26% of the population, compared to 17% in 2005. Unemployment has reached 30% of the population in the first quarter of 2007 and 70% of Palestinians living in Gaza are now dependent on food aid.

The fact that today we are still discussing the issue of Palestinian self-determination and the continuing aggression and deprivation is an indictment against all of us.

Why?

We are faced with a complex situation with several inter-related dimensions, consisting primarily of security issues, geo-strategic interests; control of oil resources, policies determined by concepts such as "clash of civilisations" and "axis of evil", the strategic objective to carve out a "New Middle East" and a militaristic approach to combat terrorism.

For many in Israel, the United States (US) and some European countries the Palestinian and Lebanese fronts are part of a war against a unified "axis of terror and hate".

A neo-con reflected this thinking when he said that "Israel and the West are dealing with radical, messianic Islam, which extends its arms like an octopus, creating an axis from Tehran to Gaza by way of Damascus and Beirut. And that the only fitting response in this is a military one in order to create a new strategic balance between us and radical Islam".

A logical outcome of such thinking, is an uncritical support and protection of Israel, which is seen as a powerful ally in the fight against "militant Islam," and the "axis of evil" and a powerful gendarme to protect "Western values and interests" in the region.

These powerful forces refuse to accept that the Palestinian struggle for a viable state is legitimate and is the key issue that needs to be resolved if there is to be long-term peace and stability in the entire region.

Chairperson

It is unacceptable that 60 years after the founding of Israel and 40 years after the 1967 war the reality today is that the Palestinians control only 23% of their original land and even this is being threatened by increasing settlements, the "Apartheid" Wall and the threat by Israel to disengage unilaterally. What can we do to assist the Palestinians to achieve their self-determination? In the end we must be guided by the Palestinians.

As we confront this challenge we are acutely conscious, as you have discussed, that the UN Security Council has been unable to find a solution. Israel is the only country in the world that rejects all Resolutions with impunity and the US has consistently used its veto to prevent the UNSC from taking any effective action against Israel.

Conference has also discussed the reality that the Road Map to achieve a two state solution, driven by the Quartet, [UN, EU, USA, Russia] has not made any significant progress. As you have discussed, the Quartet is an imposed grouping that is not transparent and is not accountable to the UN Security Council, the body responsible for regional and international peace and security.

How do we respond to this reality?

How do we also respond to the reality that since the Oslo Agreement, powerful forces have systematically sought regime change of the Palestinian Authority?

This illegal policy intensified after the electoral victory of Hamas in January 2006. These elections, pronounced by all international observers - including the South African observers - as free and fair, soon came to haunt Palestinians, against all reason. The victory of a democratically elected Hamas Government became another pretext for a renewed offensive against the Palestinian people and its institutions.

It is ironic that one of the most successful areas of Palestinian reform has been the establishment of a robust electoral process, managed by an independent electoral commission to ensure free and fair elections. The former head of the International Monetary Fund in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Karim Nashashibi, noted that it is this institutional success, demonstrated by the Hamas election victory, due to its undesirable outcome in the perception of the US and major donors, that has lead to the institutional degradation of all the reform areas.

Reaction of some powerful countries

Despite proclaimed policies, the "New Middle East policy" which is premised on the need for democracy many major countries have refused to accept the democratic will of the Palestinian people.

The non-recognition of a democratically elected government, the sanctions and the withholding of Palestinian money by the Israelis is creating a humanitarian catastrophe.

  • There was a general expectation that after the Mecca Agreement and the formation of the Government of National Unity reason would prevail.
  • Agreement to respect all past agreements to seek a negotiated solution.
  • · To intensify efforts to ensure that the cease-fire is consolidated.
  • Reactions of many countries continue to be negative.

Chairperson

This conference presented us with an opportunity to break through the curtain of silence, ignorance and distortions of the realities in the Middle East. This conference has provided an opportunity to share information prevent fatigue and on the basis of real facts plan concrete solidarity actions in support of a negotiated solution leading to a two state solution.

Despite all distortions the Palestinians at this conference have once again declared their commitment to seek a negotiated solution based on UN Resolutions and the Arab initiative of 2002.

We must expose and reject the Israeli claims that they have no negotiating partner in the Palestinian camp; the reality is that the Palestinians have no negotiating partner in the Israeli camp.

The Israeli government continues to seek a military solution. They refuse to accept that violence has never been successful in fighting and destroying the will of the people that are committed to fight for their self-determination irrespective of the penalty they must pay.

The vast majority of Israeli's support a negotiated solution, however they have been confused and immobilized because of their security concerns. We must not ignore this reality. It is therefore important for the Palestinian government to intensify its efforts to stop the rocket attacks against Israeli targets.

Chairperson

The dangerous situation in the Middle East demands the concerted attention and action of both the countries in the region and the rest of the world including Africa. In this regard we must welcome and support the decision of the Arab League Summit in Riyadh in March 2007 that reiterated adherence to the Arab Peace Plan 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 1967 and a negotiated resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem.

We must intensify our campaigns to convince the Israeli people and government to respond constructively and creatively to the Arab initiative. A historic moment for peace has arrived and the Israelis must grab it, in the interest of the Israeli people and regional and international peace and stability.

This conference has also once again confirmed that it is not possible to solve any problem in the Middle East if the legitimate inalienable rights of the Palestinians is not only accepted but made a reality. As you discussed, the policies and actions of some powerful governments demand that we build a mass international solidarity movement across the spectrum of society involving governments, non-governments, trade unions, political parties, religious leaders, business communities in support of the Palestinian people.

Minister Pahad outlined our government's position re African solidarity. Let me elaborate on some of the elements.

Such a powerful solidarity movement should seek to pressure governments to change their policies and to act decisively to find a genuine two state solution.

We must intensify all our activities to defeat the diabolical scheme that is being created by the building of the "Apartheid" Wall.

We must campaign to stop schemes to change the facts on the ground.

We must campaign to stop the building of any new settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.

We must campaign to end extra-judicial killings, collective punishment, and systematic destruction of Palestinian infrastructure.

Given the reality that governments and civil society have become victims of a very calculated and orchestrated campaign even in the South African media, to demonize the Palestinian leadership we must make clear both at government and civil society level that it is the Palestinians, like any other people, who must choose their own leaders, and we must campaign against any form of unconstitutional regime change imposed from outside or attempted from within.

Many recommendations have been made at this conference, which are important. We must ensure that they are implemented.

As I said earlier, we must ask the question consistently - how long will the international community allow the Israeli government to continue to ignore all UN Resolutions, and violate international law with such impunity.

The reality is through the system of the UN any effective action to the Security Council has been consistently vetoed by the US. This of course raises the question - how do we intensify our efforts to reform the whole UN system so that we can effectively deal with the present imbalance of forces and the misuse of the veto power to protect countries that systematically continue to violate international law.

This Conference must proclaim Africa's commitment to strengthen international solidarity in aid of the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to independence and statehood. This must be manifested in concrete actions of solidarity.

Our immediate tasks are

  • Recognition of Palestinian Government of Unity. We look forward to visits to South Africa and Africa of the President, the Prime Minister, other ministers and officials of the government of National Unity.
  • Removal of all sanctions.
  • Israel's compliance with UN Resolutions and the judgment of the International Court of Justice on the Wall.
  • Unconditional, constructive and creative Israeli response to the Arab initiative.

Chairperson

Current developments in the region, including the stalemate in the peace process, are threatening regional and international peace and security.

Allow me to again quote what President Mbeki said because I believe it raises the fundamental question of the imbalance of power and the need for a fundamentally transformed multilateral system to take up its responsibilities.

President Mbeki: "….the question can not longer be avoided - is it now time that the United Nations, genuinely representing all nations assumes its rightful position and leads a global process to address all the inter-connected challenges facing the peoples of the Middle East and West Asia? None of us is entitled to succumb to a destructive paralysis by resigning ourselves to the expectation that the sister peoples of the Middle East are ineluctably condemned to be consumed by an unstoppable conflagration, foretold by current events as an impending and modern frightening apocalypse, as a result of which mere anarchy would be loosed upon the world."

Chairperson

Let me conclude with quoting a paragraph from ex-President Carter's recent book:

"Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law, with the Roadmap for Peace, with the wishes for a majority of its own citizens - honour its own previous commitments - by accepting its legal borders. All Arab neighbours must pledge to honour Israel's right to live in peace under these conditions. The United States is squandering international prestige and goodwill and intensifying global anti-American terrorism by unofficially condoning or abetting the Israeli confiscation and colonisation of Palestinian territories.

It will be a tragedy - for the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the world - if peace is rejected and a system of oppression, apartheid, and sustained violence is permitted to prevail."

This conference and tomorrow's NGO meeting must mobilize governments and peoples throughout the world to respond effectively to President Mbeki and ex-President Carter's observations, if we want to prevent a tragedy.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152
Pretoria
0001

10 May 2007

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