SA enters the Middle East Abyss

2014-07-24 18:00

South Africa has announced the appointment of its former deputy minister for foreign affairs, Mr Aziz Pahad, to lead a team of envoys to travel to Israel, Palestianians territories and the Middle East.

According to the Minister of Internationak Relations and Cooperation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, the team is dispatched "to convey our growing concern with the escalation of violence there, including the endless wanton killing of Palestinian civilians and the destruction of homes in Gaza."

Thus, South Africa decided to escalate its position from issuing statements of concern and conveying this its displeasure with violence through the Israel ambassador to practical actions. It has decided to engage directly with the region and the primary actors in the conflict, a step closer to mediation, a role that is the sole preserve of the USA.

It seems that South Africa is responding to an expectation that its position in favour of a negotiated settlement is adequately championed by going beyond media statements to practical action in favour of political dialogue.

In Mr Pahad, it has chosen a seasoned international diplomat very familiar with the region and quite well known by the actors to convey its views on the Gaza conflict and perhaps encourage dialogue among parties. He is outspoken against violence and war as a political strategy and a campaigner for a two state solution, a position which means he believes Palestinians must have their own state.

Since timing is everything in peace diplomacy, the fact that this action is taken at a time when other international actors have sent envoys to the region to help de-escalate the conflict means that the time is ripe for the initiative. Not only is the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, in the region to encourage the end to hostilities and resumption of the peace process, the US foreign minister, John Kerry, is also traveling the region for talks.

When the cessation of hostilities finally happen and negotiations begin, it will be hard to explain it to the exclusion of all efforts at peace, however small they may seem. So, when the story of the conflict and peace in the area is written, they would be a mention of South Africa. Countries that have a sense of idealism in their outlook cherish the opportunity to be mentioned and recorded in history for efforts they make. SA is one such country.

Whether the parties to the conflict will give SA a chance to impact the conflict situation meaningfully is anyone's guess. It may be that it will be totally ignored by the Israel government miffed by its strong position against Israel's excessive use of force and its support of the Palestinian cause.

It is likely that the Palestinian Authority will welcome SA's support during a terrible period for the people of Gaza and their government. They will find it assuring that President Zuma is to invite the Authority's head, President Mahomoud Abbas, for a Working Visit to Tshwane.

Although SA has no real relationship with the Hamas side, the government having been closer to the more moderate Fatah movement, the SA envoys are likely to be well received by Hamas leaders as they too are in dire need of whatever moral support they can get.

They will probably listen, but their ability to stop firing rockets into Israel depends on Israel stopping its airstrike and the occupation, while Israel would say it would not stop until Hamas stops.

It is in this sense a very complex conflict anchored in the paradigm of war and culture of violence. It is deeper than the actions of any of the current actors. The structures of violence, domination and counter-violence are well entrenched in the social fabric, politics and state behaviors in Israel and Palestianian territories; in history and national imaginations.

Because the end goal should be to weaken and undo these structures of violence, uproot the paradigm of war and dislodge the culture of war, domination and resistance, any effort at promoting peace and dialogue should be encouraged. Other countries must enter the scene and encourage the parties to free themselves from this abyss of barbarity. Some may encourage the USA to use its influence for peace. They may encourage the backers of Hamas to help them choose peace, while expection justice.

Ultimately, the creation of a viable Palestinian state and its capacitation to improve the lot of Palestianians who have suffered terrible for decades, existing peacefully and in friendship the state of Israel is re real chance for achieving lasting peace and prosperity in this areas. Sometimes, it seems parties to the conflict and their backers have the illusion that murder and harassment can ever assure them of victory in conflict.

War is a paradigm of victors, those who desire to defeat others; while peace is a paradigm of survivors, a paradigm of co-existence. Shifting the paradigm in Israel and Palestine should lay the basis for lasting peace. If the SA effort contributes to this, then it would have helped tansform an abyss to a paradise.

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