Cape Town - A senior South African government official laid the blame for the stalling of the Middle East peace process at Israel’s feet, when he addressed Israel’s national day celebration in Pretoria on Tuesday.
Themba Rubushe, chief director for the Middle East in the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, told Israel’s ambassador Arthur Lenk that Israel’s expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and its reneging on an agreement to release 26 Palestinian prisoners had deadlocked the Middle East peace talks.
Rubushe said that when the negotiations had started in July last year, US Secretary of State John Kerry had announced, on behalf of the parties, that the process would culminate in a final resolution on all the final status issues.
“However, during… March 2014, Israel refused to submit to a long-outstanding agreement of the release of the last group of 26 Palestinian prisoners and instead chose to trade the release of prisoners for the extension of peace talks beyond 29 April 2014.
“That, together with settlement expansion, brought the peace talks to a deadlock. In response, on 1 April 2014, the Palestinian President signed documents applying for membership to 15 United Nations agencies.”
Rubushe said the construction of settlements and the establishment of new ones on the Occupied Palestinian Territory were not conducive for meaningful negotiations
“South Africa urges both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to return to the negotiating table in order to find a just and lasting solution to the conflict,” Rubushe said.
Israel has blamed the breakdown in talks on the deal for a unity government which the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which runs the West Bank, struck with Hamas, which runs Gaza.
Lenk, who had spoken before Rubushe, touched on the Middle East situation in his speech:
“Israel supports a two-state solution with the Palestinians and is committed to making difficult decisions.”
He stressed the country-to-country relations with South Africa.
remarks prompted mixed comment.
“Brutal,” said a Western ambassador, who did not wish to be named. “This is not the occasion for such criticism,” adding “How can you expect Israel to negotiate with people who don’t recognise them?”
But an ambassador from a non-Western country said Rubushe had struck a good balance, demonstrating South Africa’s co-operation with Israel and the contribution of the Jewish community to South Africa as well as showing solidarity with the Muslim community.