South Africa shares its secrets with Israel

South African politicans involved in negotiating an end to the apartheid era began a three-day meeting outside Cape Town on Sunday to share their experience with leaders and academics involved in finding a peaceful solution to the conflict between Israeli and Palestinians.

Education Minister Kader Asmal told delegates he hoped the discussions would help Israelis and Palestinians understand the significance of South Africa’s transformation to their own peace process.

“When I was at a similar conference in Germany in 1987 South Africa was compared to Israel and Palestine and Northern Ireland and it was concluded that South Africa would be the toughest nut to crack,” he said.

“But just a few years later South Africa elected Nelson Mandela as its first democratic president.”

Delegates include political analyst Dr Stanley Greenberg, who was an aid to both former United States President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak; the chairman of the Arab Economists Association in Ramallah, Samir Abdullah; and former Israeli immigration minister Yuli Tamir.

Greenberg told the forum much could be learned from South Africa but there were still differences.

“In Israel and Palestine the consensus is for a two-state solution,” he said, in contrast to South Africa’s goal of integration.

“Secondly, South Africa settled its conflict internally. There were no major foreign players involved.”

German academic Dr Heribert Adam, a specialist in Middle East politics, told the participants the Israeli leadership needed to engage Palestinians from all sides of the political spectrum before real progress could be made.

“Assuming president FW de Klerk (South Africa’s last apartheid leader) had not entered into negotiations with the Communist wing of the African National Congress and only engaged with its nationalist wing, the peace process would never have gotten off the ground,” he said.

De Klerk, who shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela for finding a peaceful end to apartheid, was due to speak at the meeting on Monday.

This is the third recent peace-building forum between South African, Israeli and Palestinian former officials or academics.

In February President Thabo Mbeki attended a four-day meeting between top South African and former Israeli military officials on ways of finding a peaceful end to the conflict with the Palestinians.

In January 2002 Mbeki held similar talks with senior Palestinian officials and Israeli “doves” near Cape Town. - Sapa-AFP

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