Cape Town – Democratic Alliance spokeswoman Phumzile van Damme said party leader Mmusi Maimane had met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Bougie Herzog, and had been due to meet with the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, who cancelled due to a scheduling conflict.
She said Maimane's aim was "to listen and learn about the conflict first hand and to discuss how South Africa should be playing a more constructive role in bringing the parties together for peace".
As a deeply religious person, the visit also had spiritual meaning for Maimane, she said.
Maimane also met with Palestinian officials in Ramallah and Rawabi, and with Palestinian human rights activists, as well as representatives of the Israeli and Palestinian business communities to "discuss how business and trade can be used to advance peace when politics is failing to make progress".
Van Damme said this was in keeping with the DA's commitment to a two-state solution, as supported by the South African government and the United Nations.
"Under the DA's leadership, South Africa will play a constructive role in bringing the two parties together instead of inflaming tensions between them."
A report in the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday on Maimane's visit, quoted unnamed officials describing him as having "an open mind" on Israel.
The DA's official position on the Palestine-Israel question is that it supports a two-state solution and peaceful coexistence with Jerusalem as the shared capital. It has described visits to the region by party leaders as fact-finding missions.
Maimane's private visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories this week came just days after Zuma at the 105th anniversary of the birth of the ANC, reiterated the ruling party's support for the Palestinian demand for self determination and discouraged South Africans from travelling to Israel, unless their aim was to promote a peaceful settlement to the Middle East conflict.
The ANC said the DA leader's visit to Israel confirmed suspicion that the official opposition supported the policies of the Jewish state, and undermined its stated support for self-determination for the Palestinian people.
"At a time when the world is increasingly standing up against Israel’s illegal settlements, including the United Nations Security Council, it is a pity that the DA is endorsing the Israeli regime instead of condemning its violations of international law," African National Congress spokesman Zizi Kodwa said.
"The allegations that the Democratic Alliance is funded and controlled by Apartheid Israel sympathisers seems to be true."
Kodwa accused the DA of being disingenuous when it said it shared the ANC's stance on Palestine, adding that the DA seemed condemned to remaining on the "wrong side of history".
"The ANC not only supports a just a fair solution but we also have for for several years attended, actively supported and organized international solidarity campaigns with the people of Palestine. We, unlike the DA call out Israel for its racism against African refugees, we condemn Israel’s Apartheid policies and its violations of international law including building of illegal settlements and the inhumane Gaza siege."
Kodwa challenged the DA to denounce Israel publicly for inflicting "apartheid" on the Palestinian people, in order to prove that it indeed held the same views as the ANC.
Maimane's visit comes shortly after Tshwana mayor Solly Msimanga visited Taiwan in a step denounced by Pretoria as a violation of its "One Taiwan" policy.