'SA has no role in Middle East'

Published Jul 29, 2006


By Wendy Jasson Da Costa

DA leader Tony Leon has broken his silence on the latest conflict in the Middle East, lashing out at the ANC Youth League and Cosatu's calls for economic sanctions against Israel.

"Unlike Cosatu president Willie Madisha, I am aware of the danger of importing the problems of the Middle East into South Africa and thereby bringing to the surface the simmering religious and ethnic tensions that emerge whenever the Middle Eastern question is discussed in our country," said Leon in his weekly letter called SA Today.

Leon's statement came as Madisha led a march to the Israeli embassy in Pretoria, saying there would be a march every day until the ambassador returned to Israel.

In the past week South African groups opposed to the violence, including Cosatu, the ANC Youth League, the Young Communists League and the Palestine Solidarity Committee, have embarked on a series of demonstrations to the Israeli and US embassies around the country.

They have also called on the government to cut all diplomatic ties and impose sanctions on Israel, and that South Africans who serve in the Israeli defence force be prosecuted under the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act.

on Friday Leon said the situation was not a simple question of right and wrong, but a crisis that demanded circumspection and a real understanding of what was driving the conflict.

"It is both foolish and mischievous to divide the combatants into a Manichaean world of good versus bad, and oppressor against oppressed.

The facts are too varied for this kind of neat division."

He said South Africa should take a rights-based position in support of public international law. This included the recognition of the sovereign right of self-defence, the avoidance of civilian casualties and the recognition of the right of people to self-determination.

Leon also criticised the media for its biased reporting and the Institute for Democracy in South Africa for hosting a debate with Palestinian activist and ex-hijacker Leila Khaled, and not representing the other side of the story.

South Africa had no role to play in resolving the Middle East conflict and it was a mistaken belief that lessons learnt from South Africa's transition could be transposed to solve problems in that region, Leon said.

"This frankly presumptuous position presupposes that South Africa has the requisite power and influence to intervene in the current conflict. Not only is South Africa ill-equipped to play such a role, it is also highly unlikely that any of the actors in the region would be likely to accept us playing such a role."

He said this was emphasised by South Africa's absence at the Rome Conference which brought together 18 nations and international organisations in an attempt to find ways to end the fighting in southern Lebanon.

Leon said the most sensible position was for South Africa to stand up on the side of peace and to avoid taking an unduly partisan position, but this would not prevent the government from speaking out against Hezbollah.

"Hezbollah is a part of the Lebanese government, yet it continues to rain rockets into northern Israel. This is a bizarre state of affairs, the equivalent for example of the SACP in Limpopo firing rockets into Zimbabwe."

Related Topics: