What can South Africa do for Palestine in Paris?

What can South Africa do for Palestine in Paris?
5 min read
03 Jun, 2016
Abbas hopes to bring South Africa into this new gambit by Paris to kick-start the peace process consistently stalled due to Palestinian fractiousness and Israeli land expropriation, writes Nick Rodrigo.
The Paris Initiative meeting on Friday will not include the PLO or Israel [Getty]

The African National Congress (ANC) party of South Africa, which has lead the country since the fall of Apartheid in 1994, has a long history with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

During the years of Apartheid, ANC activists in exile were often granted financial assistance and support from PLO leaders across Europe, whilst the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), trained with the PLO in camps across the Middle East.   

Since 1994, the ANC has resided the rebirth of South Africa as a major diplomatic power on the continent and moral force within the realm of International Relations.

Meanwhile the PLO, through the implementation of the Oslo Accords, has seen its quest for Palestinian statehood differed.

Israel has grown stronger through the peace process, which has effectively provided Tel Aviv with a smokescreen to entrench its occupation. In 2016, the MENA region is ablaze with civil war and violent counter-revolutionary crackdowns.

The Israel-Palestine issue has toppled down the international community’s agenda making the Palestinian national movement weaker than ever. 

The combination of the history between the PLO and ANC and moral obligation within South African society to side with the Palestinian cause for justice and equality has meant consistent backing of UN resolutions promoting a two-state solution.

Israel has grown stronger through the peace process, which has effectively provided Tel Aviv with a smokescreen to entrench its occupation. In 2016, the MENA region is ablaze with civil war and violent counter-revolutionary crackdowns

Last week Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited the South African city of Cape Town to reinforce trade and economic relations and discuss the upcoming French peace Initiative, set to hold its first meeting on Friday.

Upon the conclusion of the visit, South African President Jacob Zuma noted his interest in the French Initiative as a "mechanism to resolve the longstanding Middle East impasse".

Abbas will hope to bring in South Africa into this new gambit by Paris to kick-start the peace process which has consistently stalled due to Palestinian fractiousness and Israeli land expropriation.

Read more here: 'Doomed' Middle East peace efforts get underway in Paris

First proposed by Paris at the end of January 2016, the Initiative contains considerable breaks with past proposals to bring the two sides together in pursuit of a resolution.

Traditionally plans have been brokered by the United States, Israel’s prime benefactor, both of whom are averse to multilateralism on the issue.

Although the Paris Initiative does mention the need for direct negotiations, it also does not indicate that the PLO or Israel should do this on their own.

This reflects a shift in EU policy towards the Israel-Palestine issue of which France is a key architect. The EU views creation of a two-state solution as within the essential interests of Israel, as does the US. However the point of departure lies in the proactive measures the EU is willing to take to secure this solution.

Consistent condemnation of Israeli land grabs in the West Bank has culminated in a move to label consumer goods from illegal settlements in 2015, whilst the EU has an established programme to strengthen nascent state institutions the PA have been building since Oslo.

The Paris Initiative meeting on Friday does not include the PLO or Israel. Instead the parameters of the initiative will be discussed by the invited members which includes the Security Council, EU and members of the Arab League.

The parameters will be shaped by previous UN resolutions on the issue as well as the precepts of international law.

After the parameters have been set, Israel and the PLO will be brought in to the negotiations at a later date. The Initiative will establish an international support group.

The Paris Initiative meeting on Friday does not include the PLO or Israel. Instead the parameters of the initiative will be discussed by the invited members which includes the Security Council, EU and members of the Arab League

Israel has rejected the French Initiative, officially due to its tepid multilateralism. However in actuality, Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud lead government contains Knesset members who are vehemently opposed to a two-state solution in any form.

The PLO have noted that any move to reject the Initiative will mean increased internationalisation of their cause through the International Criminal Court, however they have postponed previously planned referral of Israeli settlement construction to the UN Security Council, instead focussing on the French proposal. US pressure on the PLO, dominated by Fatah, suggests their internationalisation of the conflict will increasingly favour diplomacy over mechanisms of international justice.

Meanwhile the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the second largest faction in the PLO reject the Initiative viewing it as a possible starting point to denying Palestinian refugees the right of return, while Hamas, who will not be invited to any of the talks note that it is a delaying tactic for Israel to continue its land expropriation.

The Palestinian factions are divided over these talks, primarily due to their experiences with such plans, which often dilute or even side-line their rights as enshrined within international law. 

These talks fall in line with past initiatives most notably the last proposal by US Secretary of State John Kerry’s 2013 – 2014. These talks were essentially torpedoed by the Israeli government, due to the construction of 2,000 new settlements during the talks and a violent invasion of Gaza by the Israel in 2014.

The US, the strongest member of the UN Security Council, is only attending these talks, whilst Israeli government policy is beholden to one of the most settler friendly cabinets in history, the new defence minister himself lives in an Israeli settlement.

No amount of moral and diplomatic pressure from the third largest African economy will change the fact that these talks, despite their semblance of multilateralism and adherence to international law, will favour the Israeli status quo.


Nick Rodrigo is a freelance researcher working for the Afro-Middle East Centre based in Johannesburg. He holds an MA in the Theory and Practice of Human Rights from the University of Essex, and has previously worked with Iranian and Palestinian human rights organisations.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.