The SAJBD notes the statement issued by the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) describing the agreement between the UAE and Israel to normalise relations is “regrettable”, on the grounds that the Palestinian people had not been “engaged”.
The statement by Dirco is unfortunate. In fact, the existence of diplomatic relations between the UAE and Israel creates an official framework within which such matters can be formally and constructively pursued. The agreement to normalise diplomatic relations does not determine the substance of that relationship. This remains something to be negotiated between the parties on a bilateral basis, and to the extent that the interests of the Palestinian people are affected in this case there is no reason to believe they will not be engaged.
Countries do not enter into diplomatic relations only with states they like or agree with, but because it is the accepted method by which international affairs are managed, and often includes states with which there exist fundamental differences. Far from prejudicing the interests of the Palestinians, the agreement between the UAE and Israel in fact it creates an opportunity to breathe new life into the quest for lasting peace and stability in the region.
Because of our own experience in creating a platform for constructive negotiations that ultimately ended apartheid, South Africa could have a very constructive role to play in bringing about lasting peace in the Middle East. By issuing statements like that released by Dirco, we sadly abdicate that responsibility. Even though the agreement has been welcomed by United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres, the EU and to date four other Middle Eastern countries, namely Egypt, Jordan, Oman and Bahrain, South Africa has chosen to place itself on the wrong side of developments in that part of the world. Such a knee-jerk, one-dimensional view of foreign policy is not in South Africa’s national interest, nor of the Palestinians whom the Government claims it wishes to support. Nor is the “two state solution” to which the Government says it is committed advanced by actions of this kind.
By rejecting rather than welcoming a promising agreement that advances peace between Israel and its neighbours, Government is again missing an historic opportunity to play a constructive role in the pursuit of peace in the greater Middle East region. The SAJBD calls on the South African Government to reconsider its position on developments in the Middle East so as to make a positive contribution to the cause of peace and security in that region.