When it comes to Israel and the Middle East, the presidency of Thabo Mbeki has not been short of surprises. Despite this country’s overt support for the Palestinians (nothing wrong with that if it doesn’t include anti-Israel prejudices), President Mbeki has shown a confusing willingness to strengthen ties with Israel.
In contrast to antagonistic steps such as South Africa’s decision to present evidence against Israel’s security barrier at the International Court of Justice at the Hague, Mbeki has also taken many conciliatory steps, most notably the invitation to the then deputy Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Olmert, his congratulations letter sent to former PM Ariel Sharon after the Gaza withdrawal, and the strengthening of trade ties between the two countries.
Last week came the latest surprise, (and one which will raise temperatures at the various Palestinian pressure groups) when President Mbeki appeared as a guest at the Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) celebrations in Durban.
The SA Jewish Report had the details (and the picture)
|A Distinguished Guest at Durban Yom Ha’atzmaut|
The highlight of the evening was a most unique guest - President Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki, along with national ANC officebearers and the KwaZulu-Natal ANC leaders, had been in a six hour meeting held at the Durban Jewish Centre during the day, and he dropped in to wish the Jewish community well on such a celebratory occasion. “All of us are very keen to indeed respond to all the problems of people, black and white. We can’t allow the internal problems of the ANC to spill over onto the people,” Mbeki stated. Looking around the hall, Mbeki said he could see “many potential presidents” among the youngest guests. He explained that his desire was for “this generation to be able to answer the questions of the next generation” and by working together, we could all create a better future for our children.”
South Africa has always remained committed to the two state solution. The sincerity of this stance was impressed upon me 2 years ago when Andre Zaaiman, South Africa’s adviser on international conflicts, speaking to the Jewish community, specifically said, “we need one Palestinian state; not two.”
That said, Mbeki clearly wants to have it both ways. We should not let this diplomatic advance cloud our views of his government, which after failing to condemn Iran's calls to destroy Israel, brazenely sent the most ardent anti-Zionist cabinet minister to Iran on a visit intended to strengthen ties and show solidarity (and perhaps praise the wisdom of their nuclear programme?).