South African Jewish leaders meeting with Abbas creates backlash

December 3, 2014 Agencies
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Senior leadership of the South African Jewish community has met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and President Zuma at the Presidential Guest House in Pretoria.

Zev Krengel President of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies shakes hands wh

Zev Krengel President of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies shakes hands with President Abass

The Jewish delegation included representatives of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and SA Zionist Federation,

But they faced a barrage of criticism from the South African Jewish community resulting in a statement to respond to all those who had demanded “please explain”…

At the meeting with President Abbas the leaders say they were reassured by President Abbas’ confirmation that he and his government are committed to achieving peaceful co-existence with Israel based on the Two-State model.

They report:

The discussion focused on President Abbas’ views on what form a final peace settlement between Israel and Palestine should take and what needs to be done to achieve this.

This, he said, means pursuing a negotiated solution aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel based on the 1967 borders, where necessary with land swaps.  All issues need to be negotiated with Israel to end the conflict.

The South African Jewish leadership welcomes the confirmation by President Abbas and his delegation that he and his government remain committed to a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict with Israel and to working with the Israeli government towards attaining that goal. It further supports all efforts by the South African government aimed at bringing the respective parties together and taking the process forward.

The Jewish leadership reiterated that as South Africans they understood the importance of direct, face to face negotiations between the parties in order to achieve a lasting peace settlement.

The meeting has caused concern within the South African Jewish community and the South African Board of Deputies have responded with an explanation as to why they met with the Palestinian president.

Here is their statement:

The SAJBD and SAZF have come under fire from some members of our community, both for meeting with Mahmoud Abbas and for the statement it issued afterwards welcoming his stated commitment to a negotiated, two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ‘Naïve’ and ‘ill thought-out’ have been amongst the milder criticisms received; those less inclined to be kind have used words like ‘disloyal’, ‘treacherous’ and ‘despicable’. Clearly, there is a need to explain more fully how the meeting with the Palestinian delegation came about, and why it took the standpoint it did in its subsequent press release.

The meeting itself came about as a result of an invitation extended to the Board by President Zuma. This followed on the meeting we had had with him and members of his Cabinet in September. On that occasion the President, in addition to categorically restating his zero-tolerance for any form of antisemitism, reiterated his support for a two state solution, and pledged his government’s support in helping to take the peace process forward. This undertaking, it must be stressed, came about despite the extensive pressure under which Mr Zuma has come from both within and outside the ruling party to break off ties with Israel altogether.

It also needs to be stressed that prior to our accepting the invitation, the matter was thoroughly discussed with and approved by senior ministers in the Israeli government. The latter were also thoroughly briefed about what took place afterwards.

In light of this background, we felt comfortable in accepting the invitation to meet with the Abbas delegation. Our position has consistently been to engage in dialogue, and hence we welcomed the opportunity to hear at first-hand what Mahmoud Abbas had to say regarding how the Israel-Palestine question should be resolved. We also believed that the mere fact he once again went on record as supporting the “two-state” formula was something positive in and of itself. It needs to be remembered that for those who believe that Israel should not be allowed to exist at all, a final status two-state solution that by definition recognises its legitimacy is anathema. Such lobbies exist in South Africa as well, and it is these who are most vociferous in pushing for a comprehensive boycott against Israel.

A failure to make progress on the negotiations front is exactly what such hard-line anti-Israel groupings desire, since it gives impetus to their calls for boycotts and sanctions against Israel as a way of forcing it to accede to the Palestinians’ demands.  Refusing on principle to deal with Mahmoud Abbas is thus counter-productive, playing as it does right into the hands of those who seek to turn Israel into a pariah state as per the old South African regime.

That our government is nevertheless continuing to engage with both parties in the conflict and support the broader “two-state” vision is thus a setback for these lobbies. It is therefore in the interests of our community to encourage such engagement. Obviously, that means that we need to be consistent. We cannot call for dialogue and peaceful negotiations towards a two-state solution if we ourselves decline to get involved when called upon to do so.

Had the main factions contesting South Africa’s future not embarked on a process of face-to-face negotiations, then it is unlikely, to say the least, that South Africans would ever have been able to resolve the conflict between them and embark on a peaceful new future together.

The situations in pre-democracy South Africa and the one facing Israel are obviously very different, but the ‘Jaw-Jaw is better than War-War’ principle remains true in both cases. Sometimes, negotiations fail to prevent war or halt an already existing conflict, but the effort always needs to be made. Israel has always understood this, which is why it has always kept the door open to negotiations no matter how bleak the prospects for success might look. It did so during the recent war in Gaza, despite the continual bad faith shown by Hamas, and continues to do with Mahmoud Abbas and his government. What is certain, as Israelis know, is that abandoning negotiations amounts to giving up all hope for achieving peace and condemning themselves and their children to perpetual conflict with their neighbours. And it is not the Jewish way to give up on hope. Speaking to your enemies is not a sign of weakness, but it’s opposite. Damning and shutting out the other side is easy; it requires boldness and firm resolve to talk to them and try, no matter how difficult or even risky it might be, to find common ground.

There is another point to consider. Whatever concerns one might have about Mahmoud Abbas and his government, the alternatives – Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, IS and other such movements – are self-evidently a great deal worse. For that reason alone, Israel cannot afford not to maintain lines of communication, and what is true for Israel is as true for the Jewish world at large. The South African Jewish leadership, when presented with an opportunity to engage with the Abbas delegation chose to do so rather than turning down the opportunity. Our counterparts in other Diaspora countries have likewise chosen this path.

A negotiated, two- state solution necessarily precludes either party acting unilaterally, leaving such crucial final status issues as borders and security arrangements still unresolved. Recent moves by the Palestinian Authority to seek recognition from the international community clearly fall into this category, and if he is serious about reaching the kind of sustainable settlement with Israel that he spoke about, Mahmoud Abbas will need to abandon this strategy and recommit himself to the negotiations process. That he has at least gone once more on record reaffirming his commitment to a negotiated settlement is, in our view, a positive thing in itself, not least because it undermines those around the world who seek to delegitimise Israel altogether.

To achieve a peaceful final status agreement will require courage and a willingness to take risks on both sides. Thus far, the Fatah movement has been unwilling to take such risks, and so it may prove in the future. If any such breakthrough is to occur, however, negotiations have to continue, whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. In seeking a lasting peace agreement, the obstacles are formidable and the future deeply uncertain. Nevertheless, we have an obligation, to ourselves and to future generations, to at least try.


3 Responses to “South African Jewish leaders meeting with Abbas creates backlash”
  1. Otto Waldmann says:

    Give a Yid a title, usually “Mr. President” – of ANYTHING – add (toilet) water and , bingo, we have Groisse Moishe !!!!
    We see it everyday and everywhere; want some local good ol’ “Aussie” shlemils, hailing right from the same place where one porks the cor !!

  2. Kevin Herbert says:

    So it appears that the SAJBD & SAZ attempted wedge on the PLO’s stated intention to seek international recognition, has ingloriously failed.

  3. david singer says:

    1. The Palestinian Authority no longer exists. It was disbanded on 3 January 2013.
    Why did the SA Board of Deputies pretend the Palestinian Authority existed when it doesn’t?

    2. How can the Board talk of negotiations when Abbas has walked out on negotiations? Did Abbas indicate he was prepared to return to negotiations without preconditions?

    3. The Board is strangely silent on the “right of return” and on Abbas recognizing Israel as the nation state of the Jews in its statement.
    Did the Board just listen or did it contribute anything at the meeting?

    4. “It also needs to be stressed that prior to our accepting the invitation, the matter was thoroughly discussed with and approved by senior ministers in the Israeli government.The latter were also thoroughly briefed about what took place afterwards.”

    Who were the senior ministers? Did they include the Prime Minister? If not – why not?

    5. “This, he (Abbas) said, means pursuing a negotiated solution aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel based on the 1967 borders, where necessary with land swaps. All issues need to be negotiated with Israel to end the conflict.”
    (i) Did the Board point out there are no 1967 borders?
    (ii) Did the Board point out “land swaps” are not necessarily Israel’s policy?
    (iii)Did the Board discuss the question of Jews continuing to live in the independent Palestinian state as citizens of that state?

    6.The responses the Board received from members of the community as noted by it were certainly justified.

    Interestingly enough the Board does not indicate the level of support it received from the community in going into such a meeting.

    7. The photo opportunity of the head of South African Jewry shaking hands with a man who declared the following in July 2013 – is disgraceful:
    “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands,”

    7. Whatever the Board President said to Abbas did not stop Abbas making this abhorrent remark just a few days ago:
    ““We will never recognize the Jewishness of the state of Israel,” Abbas was quoted by Channel 10 saying.”

    In my opinion the Board would have been wiser to decline President Zuma’s kind invitation on the grounds that it did not wish to meddle in a conflict that it was not a party to.

    Keeping out of hot water is much more sensible than jumping into it with your eyes open.

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