SA, Palestine strengthen bilateral relations

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

By More Matshediso

Pretoria – The governments of South Africa and Palestine have agreed on ways and means to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries and the role that South Africa can play in supporting the struggle of the Palestine people.

President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday received the President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, who is in the country on a state visit.

President Zuma said the countries made good progress in their meetings today, evidenced by the signing of three agreements.

The agreements include an accord for the establishment of a Joint Commission of Co-operation, a Memorandum of Understanding on political consultations that will see the two governments meeting regularly to exchange views on political matters of common concern, and an agreement on co-operation in higher education and training.

“We have agreed that the two Ministers of International Relations and Cooperation and Foreign Affairs will convene the inaugural meeting of the Joint Commission during 2015,” President Zuma said at a media briefing.

“We agreed that the continuing building of settlements in occupied Palestine lands is undermining prospects for a two-state solution as envisaged by the United Nations and the international community. We reiterate our call for the total cessation of all settlement activities.”

President Zuma said the only way to everlasting peace lies in frank and genuine negotiations between Palestine and the State of Israel with the two-state solution being the ultimate goal.

“South Africa is ready to assist with this progress,” he said.

“I have appointed two Special Envoys, former Minister Dr Zola Skweyiya and former Deputy Minister Dr Aziz Pahad, to engage on this matter with the State of Palestine and other relevant stakeholders in the Middle East region and the world at large,” President Zuma said.

With regard to the growing tension created by the demands over the usage of the Al Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem, President Zuma said he agreed with President Abbas that the State of Israel (as the political authority) has a responsibility to return the situation to normality.

“I am confident that today we have laid a solid foundation for further strengthening of bilateral relations between our people,” he said.

President Abbas said the visit was also an opportunity for the two countries to discuss a range of political issues. It was a chance for Palestine to seek the knowledge of South Africa in staging a road map to peace in order for Palestinians to attain their freedom.

“It is also an occasion where we discuss how we can stop racism. We want peace and we want to live in peacefulness with our neighbours,” President Abbas said.

He committed himself to working with everyone who is against the aggression, conflict and terrorism that is affecting his State.

He said it was time that the killing of innocent civilians comes to an end.

President Abbas was accompanied by Cabinet Ministers, advisors and senior officials, and his visit to South Africa concludes on Friday.

National orders for Abbas

Today President Zuma bestowed the Order of the Companions of O R Tambo on President Abbas, which symbolises the unbreakable bonds of friendship between citizens of the two countries.

The order was bestowed on President Abbas for his contribution to the struggle against injustice and oppression and his unwavering solidarity with the South African people in their fight against apartheid.

“We will be with you every step of the way no matter what it takes. You have outlined the type of support you expect from us and we will honour our promise to you,” the President said when honouring President Abbas.

President Abbas also bestowed the Star of Palestine Order on President Zuma in recognition of his distinguished stature and wise leadership at the national and international level, and his sincere efforts in helping to advance the freedom of the Palestine people.

South Africa and Palestine established full diplomatic relations on 15 February 1995, following the advent of freedom and democracy that South Africa gained in 1994. -