South Africans divided on Palestinian UN bid

The Palestinian Ambassador Ali Halima has told the Mail & Guardian that “today is an historic day for Palestinians all over the world and [those that form] the Palestinian diaspora”.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is going to formally request recognition as a state from the United Nations Security Council in New York at 6pm South African time.

But President Barack Obama has said America will use its security council veto power to block the bid.

South Africa supported the bid and would use its position on the Security Council to vote in Palestine’s favour, President Jacob Zuma has indicated.

Arabs and people from the Middle East living in South Africa would gather at the Palestinian embassy in Pretoria to show “solidarity” for the Palestinian bid on Friday afternoon and evening, said Halima.

But not all South African organisations that claim to support the Palestinian cause are pleased with the bid.

The Muslim Judicial Council and Media Review Network (MRN) have condemned the action, saying the Palestinian Authority does not fully consult all the people it claims to represent.

“The Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas do not represent all the Palestinian people,” the organisations said in a joint statement on Friday.
“The parameters of Abbas’s control on the West Bank are set by Israel. He has no say over security, land grabs, settlements, movement and building of the apartheid wall.”

MRN chair Iqbal Jassat told the M&G his organisation “does not support the Palestinian Authority that was drawn up in the Oslo accords [in 1993]”.

Jassat said the MRN—like Hamas, the ruling party of Gaza—did not want to see separate Palestinian and Israeli states, but hoped for a single nation where people “live side by side”.

Halima, however, said he was not concerned that organisations in South Africa did not support the Palestinian authority. “They don’t represent the Palestinian people’s aspirations.”

Halima added that there were organisations and individuals who were “critical of whatever we do. There are certain voices within certain communities strongly against it and they have the right to express themselves.”

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama said the United States, which has security council veto power, would block Abbas’s bid.

Obama said Palestinian people did need their own state but should only get it through talks with Israel.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies and South African Zionist Federation have expressed the same sentiment.

Chairperson Mary Kluk said the board of deputies supported a two-state solution, but was against the Palestinian Authority’s UN bid. She said the board could not support “a unilateral decision of the Palestinians to approach the UN to create a Palestinian state”.

“Change has to come through negotiation with two parties. It can’t be done in the corridors of the UN,” she said.

“Unilateral action by either party aimed at bypassing the negotiations process will result only in increased polarisation and will retard rather than advance the prospects of achieving a lasting peace agreement,” the board said in a statement.

On Wednesday, the Jewish Board of Deputies said it was disappointed by President Zuma’s statement that South Africa would support a Palestinian state: “We believe that South Africa’s supporting a unilateral declaration of independence by the Palestinians is contrary to the South African ethos of resolving differences through the give-and-take process of negotiations, in which all parties work through the issues and find mutually acceptable solutions to the questions that divide them.”

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