Palestinian supporters take part in a rally against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories in Cape Town. File picture: Schalk van Zuydam/AP

Johannesburg - Foreign diplomats based in South Africa and civil society organisations came together at the Department of International Relations and Trade on Wednesday to commemorate the UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people. 

The keynote speaker was Nabil Shaath, the advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has previously held various cabinet posts, including the first Foreign Minister of the Palestinian Authority, and acting Prime Minister.

Shaath met with President Jacob Zuma on Monday night, and Shaath told the audience at DIRCO, “President Zuma told me that South Africa won’t compromise on Palestinian rights.” Shaath claims that the current peace process has not met with spectacular success, and his people are still not free and living under occupation.

“The starting point is to draw the border along the 1967 lines, to where Israel must withdraw,” Shaath said. Shaath lamented the fact that the movement of Palestinians continues to be regulated and restricted, and they are deprived of water resources. “The Israelis have taken 93% of the water of the West Bank and given it to 600,000 illegal settlers. Only 7% of the water has been allocated for 5 million Palestinians,” he said.

On the issue of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign (BDS) Shaath said, “While the Palestinian Government does not speak for BDS, the movement does put pressure to get Israel to end its colonial settlement project. This type of pressure is what helped to end the apartheid regime in South Africa.”

“The objective is to make the occupation costly for Israel so it will abandon the occupation and go to negotiations in a non-violent way,” Shaath told the DIRCO gathering.

Ben Swartz, the Head of the South African Zionist Federation has responded to Shaath’s remarks on the BDS movement saying, “Israel has showed the world time and again they are ready to negotiate. Sadly the more pressure that is applied on Israel by external parties to the conflict – the less accommodating an Israeli government is likely to be. What would seem to be well intended by the ANC will simply contribute to a delay in the parties going to the negotiating table and prevent finding a fair solution to this very painful conflict.”

“Israel is the 3,700 year old historical, biblical, cultural and legal homeland of the Jewish people. The only solution to the conflict is to ensure the negotiation of two states for two people (one for Jews and one for the Palestinians) living side by side in peace, dignity and security,” Swartz has said, “the only way to achieve that is through direct negotiations between the two people. BDS tactics simply push the two parties further apart.”

On the issue of downgrading the South African embassy in Tel Aviv, Shaath said, “We feel any step South Africa takes to give notice to Israel that South Africa is with the Palestinians and their rights, like downgrading the embassy in Tel Aviv, is a political statement and should be supported as such.”

Shaath noted that when Venezuela decided to break diplomatic relations with Israel, their representative office in Ramallah was not affected. “Israel does not want a total disruption of relations with South Africa,” Shaath said.