SA Jewish Communal Leadership meeting with Mahmoud Abbas
SAJBD and SAZF have come under fire from some members of our community, both for meeting with Mahmoud Abbas and for the statement it issued afterwards welcoming his stated commitment to a negotiated, two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ‘Naïve' and ‘ill thought-out' have been amongst the milder criticisms received; those less inclined to be kind have used words like ‘disloyal', ‘treacherous' and ‘despicable'. Clearly, there is a need to explain more fully how the meeting with the Palestinian delegation came about, and why it took the standpoint it did in its subsequent press release.
The meeting itself came about as a result of an invitation extended to the Board by President Zuma. This followed on the meeting we had had with him and members of his Cabinet in September. On that occasion the President, in addition to categorically restating his zero-tolerance for any form of antisemitism, reiterated his support for a two state solution, and pledged his government's support in helping to take the peace process forward. This undertaking, it must be stressed, came about despite the extensive pressure under which Mr Zuma has come from both within and outside the ruling party to break off ties with Israel altogether.
It also needs to be stressed that prior to our accepting the invitation, the matter was thoroughly discussed with and approved by senior ministers in the Israeli government. The latter were also thoroughly briefed about what took place afterwards.
In light of this background, we felt comfortable in accepting the invitation to meet with the Abbas delegation. Our position has consistently been to engage in dialogue, and hence we welcomed the opportunity to hear at first-hand what Mahmoud Abbas had to say regarding how the Israel-Palestine question should be resolved. We also believed that the mere fact he once again went on record as supporting the "two-state" formula was something positive in and of itself. It needs to be remembered that for those who believe that Israel should not be allowed to exist at all, a final status two-state solution that by definition recognises its legitimacy is anathema. Such lobbies exist in South Africa as well, and it is these who are most vociferous in pushing for a comprehensive boycott against Israel.
A failure to make progress on the negotiations front is exactly what such hard-line anti-Israel groupings desire, since it gives impetus to their calls for boycotts and sanctions against Israel as a way of forcing it to accede to the Palestinians' demands. Refusing on principle to deal with Mahmoud Abbas is thus counter-productive, playing as it does right into the hands of those who seek to turn Israel into a pariah state as per the old South African regime.