Notes following Briefing to Media by Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad and Dean of the Diplomatic CORPS, Union Buildings, Pretoria, Monday, 21 January 2008

Remarks by Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad

As you are aware, we have consistently stated over the years that the greatest threat to international peace and stability is the unresolved situation in the Middle East and that if we do not solve the Palestinian issue, we would not solve any of the other burning issues in the region which could lead to a conflict that will affect us all.

It is within this context that the Council of Arab Ambassadors in South Africa called for an urgent meeting with the Department of Foreign Affairs to discuss the very serious deterioration of the situation in the Middle East and you are aware that military escalation against Palestinians in the occupied territories has intensified in the last few weeks.

This comes soon after the Annapolis Conference, President Bush’s visit to the region and indeed reports that Palestinian – Israeli talks on the final status issues had begun.

All of these factors gave us a ray of hope that at last an opportunity had arisen to find long term peace and stability in the region based on a two state solution.

However, events in the last few days have been a matter of grave concern.

As members of the Security Council, South Africa is deeply concerned about the intensified military actions against the Palestinian people in the occupied territories.  Casualties are heavy, heavy military equipment is being used and indeed, many civilian casualties can be counted amongst the dead and injured.

We cannot but say that all international law including the 4th convention is being violated without any respect for legality and indeed concerns for laws that are international and binding.

We are also concerned that the blockade that has been there for some time is being tightened and with the lack of fuel, there is now a total blackout.

But all of this has just added to an already difficult situation in which the Palestinian people find themselves.  We have consistently briefed you about the humanitarian tragedy in the occupied Palestinian territory, we have consistently called on the international community to respond to what the UN agencies have called a catastrophe and indeed, now, the situation is much worse – hospitals have been affected, schools are affected – the situation, which was previously bad has really worsened.

We would also express our concern that the disproportionate use of force and the collective punishment that is being meted out against the Palestinian people can never be justified on the basis of self defence.  It is clearly not in line with international law and goes against the fourth convention.  So we do hope that the international community will react more seriously to what is unfolding.
It is also our deep concern that this will have a serious impact on the peace process.  Indeed, every time such military actions continue without the necessary pressure on the Israeli government to desist from such action, the peace process is decisively set back.

We have been informed that the Palestinians have called for an urgent Arab Foreign Ministers meeting which should take place in the next day or two.  They have also contacted the United States government and the Quartet and have called for an urgent Security Council meeting.

We do hope that all these initiatives will lead to some international collective action to end what is obviously one of the most tragic situations in that region.

The South African government is guided by international conventions and UN resolutions and also the ANC Conference which took a resolution on this matter.

We will co-sponsor a resolution in the United Nations Human Rights Commission in a few days time and off course, as members of the Security Council, we will collectively discuss this issue and see what we can do to mobilise greater pressure to bring about stability in that area.  Therefore, it is vital, we believe, that the international community intensify its efforts to stop the military offensive, create the climate for finding a solution that is in the interests of both the people of Israel and Palestine and therefore it is our view, that the South African government will continue to intensify its effort to seek a two-state solution.  We will continue to criticise and condemn any violations of international law that occurs in that region.

We hope that after this meeting, we will continue to interact at the level of Ambassadors, with the Arab League and other governments bilaterally to see what we can do to avert the humanitarian tragedy to end the military offensive.  We are also concerned that increasing settlements are being built and we will try to find a more holistic approach to bringing about a solution in that region.

Comments by Dean of Diplomatic Corps

I do not have much to add to what the Minister has just said.

We do share his statements and we are here actually, as some of the Arab ambassadors, representing all the Arab missions based in Pretoria (19).  We have come here to bring to the attention of the South African government through its Department of Foreign Affairs and through the Deputy Minister our very deep concern about the situation in Palestine and due to the recent developments which come as a culmination of continued occupation over the last few decades.

We are very concerned that if this situation is not brought under control by putting an end to acts of aggression by the Israeli government and an end to occupation in all its manifestations, there will be no peace, either in the region or the world as has been described by the Deputy Minister.

We have always valued the South African contribution to peace in the Middle East and its support for the people of Palestine through the different international fora – the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, the African Union, and within other fora.

We are here as a group and are ready to take any questions and comments.

Questions and answers

Question: Ambassador, with the exception of your interaction with the South African government, what else will you be doing to popularize the Palestinian cause?

Answer: We have always had meetings with different sectors in South Africa with the Department of Foreign Affairs being the natural conduit through which we can channel our concerns.

At the same time, we have planned to approach other members of the diplomatic corps, other partners in South Africa including the Parliament, civil society and off course, we have the Palestinian mission which has been in contact with various sectors including civil society.

We as the Arab Ambassadors are also available for discussions – to listen to other sectors, share thoughts, and so on.

Question: Deputy Minister Pahad, will you be raising your concerns directly with the Israeli government or only through the Security Council?

Answer:  We have a multi-faceted approach on how we deal with this matter.  We deal with it multilaterally – through the UN – the General Assembly, the Security Council and also through other organizations like the Non-Aligned Movement, the African Union.

On a bilateral level, we deal with this with various countries, including Israel where we discuss this deterioration and how we can collectively act towards normalizing the situation so that the peace talks that have started can be taken to its logical conclusion in the interests of all the people in the region.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152
Pretoria
0001

21 January 2008


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