Remarks by Mr Alvin Botes, Deputy Minister of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), on the occasion of the United Nations International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, 30 November 2020

Programme Director,
Your Excellency, Ambassador Hanan Jarrar,
Your Excellency, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Ambassador Bene M’Poko,
Your Excellency, Dean of the Council of Arab Ambassadors Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary Mubarak Al Zakwani,
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors, High Commissioners,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
HE Ms. Nardos Bekele-Thomas, Resident coordinator of the United Nations - South Africa,
Rev. Frank Chikane, World Council of Churches and former DG in the Presidency of South Africa,
HE Mr. Machesetsa Mofomobe, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations of the Kingdom of Lesotho,
Mohamed Desai, Director-General of Africa for Palestine Officials from,
Distinguished Guests,

I am honoured to address this august gathering in commemoration of the 43rd International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, as well as renewing South Africa (SA)’s shared commitments to a just and lasting solution to the Question of Palestine under the topic: “How will South Africa build renewed solidarity on the African continent and support the just cause of Palestine internationally.”

A wise man once said that ‘We make our own history, not in circumstances of our choosing’…however, we have an engagement with a future SA in 2030 and we must make SA work for an Inclusive Prosperity envision in the Africa we want in 2063. The wise man reminded us that ‘the Role of philosophers is to interpret the world’ and ours, Ladies and Gentlemen, is ‘to change it’.

SA’s National Interest displays a people-centred, progressive and developmental outlook evidenced in its foreign policy, particularly as this has been expressed in the post-liberation canon of promoting pan-Africanism, South-South solidarity, North-South cooperation, and multilateral cooperation.

We have been universal acclaimed for our role as country which errs on the side of most vulnerable. It therefore holds that we should leapfrog into a prosperous future, informed by a value proposition underpinned by the affirmation of multilateralism and rejection of unilaterialism.

We will strengthen our efforts to Reposition, Reclaim, Restore, and Re-Imagine SA’s credentials as a universally recognised African State; as a Trusted interlocutor NS good citizen in the context of a depreciating foreign policy currency.

We are commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) and the approval of the Platform for Action unanimously adopted by 189 governments. The pandemic has underlined and exacerbated the continued deprivation and inequality faced by women and girls across the world. During this period, South African experienced some of the horrific incidents of Gender Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) as a result of the increased risk of victims of GBVF being confined in the same space with their abusers, unable to leave, escape or reach out for help and with limited or no mechanisms to support them. This has led to His Excellency, President Cyril Ramaphosa characterising GBVF as another pandemic facing South Africa in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our thematic approach is entitled: “Economic Justice for a Non-Violent and Non-Sexist South Africa”. We do appreciate that Financial and Economic Inclusion of Women in the Economy is a pre-requisite to remedy this primary contradiction of society, which is the definitive requirement of Gender emancipation.

I wish to confirmed that it is instructive that as Men we recognised and acknowledge that because we are a microcosm of our society, we have an additional burden to ensure that particularly toxic masculinity has no place, no repository in the society we find ourselves in.

When the world gathered last year to commemorate the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, as observed by the United Nations (UN) annually on 29 November, none of us would have imagined that world would be engulfed by a common enemy – the COVID-19 pandemic. The outbreak of this pandemic unquestionably presents an era-defining challenge to public health and the global economy. Its political consequences, both short and long-term, are less well understood. But what we do know, contagious diseases know no borders; it is transnational in nature, straddling nations and states.

The devastating impact of the virus has forced us to realise the vital importance of the values of cooperation and collaboration, and the essence of deepening multilateralism and the centrality of the apex institution thereof, the UN and her sister agencies.

Please allow me at this juncture to take this opportunity to pay respect to all those who have lost their lives due to COVID-19. In particular, the recent passing of Dr Saeb Erekat, a prominent academic, a lead Palestinian peace negotiator, who is fondly remembered for his dedicated and unwavering support for South Africa’s struggle for freedom while carrying the heavy mantle of Palestinian statehood. Dr Erekat was steadfast to the peaceful pursuit of justice, dignity, and the legitimate rights of Palestinians to self-determination, sovereignty, and statehood.

With the international community focusing on mitigating the severe effects and consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, Israel is exploiting the situation to escalate its violations in accelerating its settlement colonisation and annexation schemes by continuing to demolish and confiscate Palestinian-owned structures and homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and further entrenching its military occupation.

This has once again been observed when the Israeli occupation authorities recently demolished the Humsa Al-Baqai’a community in Tubas Governorate.

Early in October, it was also announced by the Israeli authorities for the advancement of over 5,000 new housing units in the occupied West Bank. This marks 2020 as the year for the highest settlement expansion since 2012, with over 12,000 units being advanced.

In July this year, Israel was on the brink of annexing West Bank territory with support from the Trump administration. In his four years in office, Trump supported Israel to realise an incredible set of diplomatic and strategic gains at virtually no cost in concessions to the Palestinians. On several policy areas, Trump, the architect of the “Deal of Century” disposed of policies long-held by bipartisan U.S. presidential administrations.

In December 2017, Trump recognised Jerusalem as being the “undivided capital of Israel”, and in May 2018 moved the U.S. Embassy there, annexed the disputed Golan Heights, ramped up illegal settlements, withheld humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, demolished record numbers of West Bank homes, threatened to brand human rights organisations critical of Israel as anti-Semitic, and brokered three normalisation deals between Israel and Arab countries.

In a radical shift by Arab nations, three countries, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan have taken steps in recent months towards normalising relations with the State of Israel.

The prevailing formula as outlined by the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative was that normalisation would only be granted to Israel in return for making meaningful political compromises vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

The conclusion of a multi-layered, multiparty package deal has fragmented the Arab Peace Initiative formula, as these accords replace the equation of “peace for land” with the Netanyahu-coined “peace for peace” approach, in which normalisation is given almost unconditionally. Moreover, the accords reframe the role of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the framework of Arab-Israeli relations.  From an international perspective, the potential of the accords to influence the Israeli-Palestinian political stalemate remains a key question. Most remarkable, these diplomatic gifts were lavished on Israel without negotiating anything tangible in return for the Palestinians. They demonstrate that Israel’s acceptance in the region does not necessitate paying the price of tough compromises on the Palestinian front.

However, in the same vein, the Palestinian Authority on 17 November 2020 announced that it was renewing security and civil ties with Israel, which were severed six months ago amid Israel’s plans for unilateral West Bank annexation, a move that has since been suspended. The development comes following Joe Biden's projected victory over incumbent President Donald Trump following the U.S. election earlier this month.

Excellencies,

The International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People is a time to remember that while United Nations (UN) Resolution 181 paved the way for the declaration of an independent Israel, and its subsequent recognition by the UN and by other states. Israel continues to violate UN Security Council resolutions and international law, while the Palestinian people continue to endure tragedies and calamities, continue to suffer under occupation, dispossession displacement, live in exile, martyred and imprisoned, while defending their history and homeland, and their holy sites. This denial of their most basic of rights should be an affront to the conscience of the world and a spur to action. The nations of the world must truly engage in constructive acts of solidarity, solidarity must become more than a noun, it is by time that it becomes a verb. It is time for concrete measures to be enacted.

Currently the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP) is at a stalemate and though there have been several proposals to reach a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine prior to 2014, the ongoing conflict has defied the international community’s peace building efforts. Consultations have been based on clearly established international legal frameworks, which include UN General Assembly (UNGA), the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions, the Madrid Principles, the Arab Peace Plan, the Geneva Initiative, the Quartet Roadmap, and the Paris International Peace Conference held in January 2017, to mention but a few.

South Africa has premised its involvement in the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP) on a principled position based on its own struggle against Apartheid, and the many similarities with the Palestinian plight. Since the dawn of our country’s democracy, and under the stewardship of the first President, Comrade Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, South Africa's foreign policy and diplomatic positions towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been remarkably steady. Not only has Pretoria's positions remained consistent, and its actions steadfast under the various changes of South Africa’s democratic administrations.

South Africa has a history of pursuing reconciliatory measures and have initiated and supported draft resolutions in favour of Palestine and has attended many UNSC meeting addressing the Palestinian question; held consistent voting behaviour since 1994 and backed the Palestinian UN bid for statehood, and more specifically the 2009 “Palestine 194” diplomatic campaign. South Africa has defended Palestinians in all peace conferences it attended; and used its influence to counter Israeli diplomatic offensives that could prove harmful to Palestinian ties with other African countries.

As we do not have much time, I would like to mention some of the past initiatives South Africa undertook in support of the Palestinian cause:

  • In addition to public support for the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, South Africa has endorsed the US-sponsored Mitchell Report and the Tenet Plan. South Africa welcomed the Saudi-sponsored Arab Peace Initiative of March 2002 as well as the Quartet (US, European Union (EU), Russia, UN) Middle East Road Map of May 2003.
  • South Africa has expressed its support for the civil society initiative that emerged as the Geneva Agreement in 2004, viewing it as complementary to the Road Map. South Africa has declared itself in favour of the deployment of an international monitoring force in the occupied Palestinian territories.
  • On 22 August 2012, the South African Cabinet approved Government Notice 379 pertaining to the labelling of products from the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The Israeli Government was “distressed” by the fact that the entire South African Cabinet had approved the notice requiring the labelling of products emanating from the Occupied Territories.
  • In June 2016, former French President, Francois Hollande hosted a Middle East Peace Initiative Meeting aimed at rekindling the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Following this meeting, several other developments ensued; a report from the Middle East Quartet, Russian and Egyptian initiatives, and the adoption of resolution 2334 on 23 December 2016. In January 2017, France hosted a conference for peace in the Middle East. South Africa reminded the meeting that South Africa had in the past initiated dialogue between different groups of Palestinians and Israelis, during which it shared its experience in negotiations, peace-building, constitution-building processes, and the transition to democratic transformation.
  • South Africa, under former President Jacob Zuma, also appointed Presidential envoys who visited several countries in the region and interacted with leaders and opinion-makers, soliciting views on how to revive and take forward the two-state solution.
  • South Africa through its bond with countries of the Middle East and North Africa region and of the Global South, including the rest of the African Continent, have advocated governments to support international peace efforts to resolve this protracted conflict.
  • In addition to South Africa’s multilateral pledges, at forums such as the BRICS, the NAM and the G77, South Africa has also pursued several bilateral and trilateral channels of engagement on the MEPP. In 2002, South Africa tried to broker peace talks between Israel and Palestine under the “Spier Presidential Peace Retreat.” South Africa hosted two rounds of Spier talks aimed at strengthening the peace camps on both sides and sharing its experience in negotiations, peacemaking, and transition to democracy; and to support international peace efforts, in particular through the UN system.

The obvious conclusion from these meetings and interactions is that South Africans are unyielding in their solidarity with Palestine, and see themselves as partners in the Palestinian struggle for justice and peace. Furthermore, on 14 May 2018, the Government recalled its former Ambassador to Israel to protest the killing of hundreds of unarmed protesters taking part in the Great March of Return in besieged Gaza. In 2019, South Africa began to actively downgrade its ties with Israel in an unprecedented step, which goes against the current international trend of shielding Israel and protecting it from repercussions for its apartheid policies and its disenfranchisement of millions of Palestinians.

Excellencies,

On the global stage, South Africa is currently both an elected member of the United Nations Security Council and the Chair of the African Union (AU), which places upon us a great sense of responsibility to reinforce our solidarity with oppressed people. As we are nearing the end of our tenure on the UNSC, we would not miss the opportunity to intensify lobbying for the world body, which is weighted against the Palestinians, to strengthen international law, pass critical resolutions, and craft new conversations around the Palestinian struggle.

Similarly, our role in the African Union (AU) is, conceivably, more crucial as Israel is vociferously lobbying various African states to support its bid for observer status at the AU. An emboldened South African in the AU is more important than it ever, to ensure that Israel does not acquire an observer seat in the AU.

There is a growing and justifiable sense that certain African and Arab nations no longer see the liberation of Palestine as a common objective. Israel with the support of America has driven a wedge between these countries, which were united in their unconditional support of the Palestinian struggle against military occupation and apartheid.

If Israel continues to score political victories while facing little resistance, it could also eventually dominate Africa. The absurdity of this matter goes beyond the struggle in Palestine. A continent that was devastated by colonialism, racism and apartheid should not embrace the policies proposed by Israel. This exemplifies the ills that have cost Africa so dearly for hundreds of years. The issue of solidarity with Palestine, and the pressing need to block Israeli scourges in Africa, are intrinsically linked.

As external and internal threats to the historic Palestinian statehood agenda multiply, the need for a political solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, becomes more imminent. Within this context, South Africa’s struggle against apartheid was based on concerned internal resistance to apartheid and the international isolation of the Apartheid State. To this end, there is a need to encourage and intensify international, national and regional social movements, organisations and coalitions to support the unified call to strengthen the global campaign to pressure Israel to end its occupation and fully comply with international law and all relevant United Nations resolutions.

While lauding Africa’s strong show of support for Palestine, the continent’s civil society network could and should do more, starting with the creation of an Africa-wide solidarity network that could make the activities of national solidarity movements more effective. Given the absence of official ties between Israeli and Palestinian people, the focus should be more directed toward enhancing Track-II diplomacy in ways that may induce both sides to pressure the leadership of Palestine and Israel to revive their official peace talks on more solid grounds. As part of a strategy, the aim would be to create a synergy with relevant NGOs that are bridge-builders, human rights defenders, and agents of social protection and economic revitalisation to explore options in moving the MEPP forward.

As Trump’s term as U.S. president comes to an end, it is anticipated that when Joe Biden takes office, he will roll back some of Trump’s egregious anti-Palestinian policies. South Africa calls on the newly elected American leadership and the international community to open the door to a different diplomacy approach in resolving the Israeli – Palestine conflict.

Correspondingly, the idea presented by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to hold an international peace conference in early 2021 appears to be gaining traction. South Africa fully supports the call for an international conference with the participation of all concerned parties for discussions on a genuine peace process, including the resolution of all final status issues.

Any initiative to end the conflict and to bring an end to Israeli occupation must consider the needs and aspirations of the Palestinian people. No peace plan or initiative can have any merit or succeed if all parties to the conflict are not included in such talks as equal partners from the very beginning.

As we reiterate our support for a just and negotiated settlement on the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, independence and complete sovereignty in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions and international law, we recall the wise words of the global icon of justice, the freedom fighter, the first president of the democratic Republic of South Africa, Comrade Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela: ‘We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.’. Indeed, Madiba encapsulates the essence of solidarity itself because solidarity is not just about doing for others; is not about things like humanitarian assistance, displaying empathy, or giving; solidarity is a political act; more than that, it is a political process that creates political relationships.

As I conclude, South Africa’s history and support for the Palestinian struggle for freedom is one that is also linked to our historical and shared struggles. South Africa stands ready to continue to further enhance and support the Palestinian cause at multilateral and bilateral levels, alongside the international community to push forward the peace talks between Palestine and Israel, and will continue to support the efforts for achieving a fair and durable peace in Palestine, based on the two-State solution and in the realisation of the inalienable right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.

South Africa will continue to work with all like-minded countries to support international efforts aimed at the establishment of a viable Palestinian state, existing side by side in peace with Israel within international recognised borders, based on those existing on 4 June 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in line with all relevant UN resolutions, international law and internationally agreed parameters.

In closing, I would like to commend the organisers for arranging an inspirational programme. Thank you to all for your participation here today, and most importantly, for your commitment and collaboration.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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