Update to South Africans on current Palestine-Israel negotiations

Update to South Africans on the current Palestine-Israel-USA negotiations: continue to support BDS!

Some of us in South Africa have been supporting Kairos Palestine in their struggle to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The Kairos Palestine document (www.kairospalestine.ps ) does not prescribe a particular political future for Israel and Palestine, but calls on everyone to work together for a common future and for peace with justice.

The Kairos Palestine Document also calls for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

We at Kairos SA believe it is correct to do this because

(a) it is the only non-violent option left to the Palestinian people and their supporters (if we do not do it we are in fact encouraging a violent struggle) and

 (b) it helps to put pressure on Israel and realign the balance of forces between Israel and Palestine. Some people might want to release the pressure on Israel at this time, but those who know anything about negotiations know that the pressure should only be released when a credible solution is found through negotiations.

So everyone should be encouraged to continue with the BDS campaign, and even strengthen it until our Palestinian sisters and brothers say to us that it should end.

Churches and other groups across the world have taken up the BDS call and should continue to do so. This is the best way to “encourage” the negotiations to reach a finality – we should be careful not to do the opposite, thinking that this will encourage the negotiations….stopping the BDS campaign will merely help to strengthen the hand of the already powerful.

There is no question that the USA is “Israel’s lawyer” and therefore we, the rest of the human community, should be “Palestine’s lawyer”. We can be this by continuing to support BDS.

The negotiations

At some point in a conflict, the parties who are involved (excluding no-one) should start negotiating with each other, and this now started happening again even though it is in an early and very fragile stage. The latest news is that they hope to have a settlement in nine months time.

As we in South Africa know, negotiations are a messy business and those leading the negotiations must have the right skills and the power balance must be right in order for the negotiations to succeed. For some of these reasons, the Palestinians have been correct to refuse to negotiate with Israel since the power balance is hugely in favour of the Israelis, and in any case the Israelis have continued to build more and more settlements on Palestinian lands even while the so-called negotiations were continuing. So it did not make sense for the Palestinians to continue negotiating.

Is there something different this time?

Many commentators are saying that these current talks will fail. South Africans know what was said about South Africa in the 1980s and during the negotiations here (it will end in a bloodbath….there will be a civil war, etc…)  so we do not take these views too seriously. We listen to them all but quietly go ahead to do what must be done. Peace is ultimately not for the fainthearted, but for the strong-willed.

The “something different” this time might be the chaos in the neighbouring countries (particularly Egypt and Syria) and the subsequent loss of support to Hamas. Those who are negotiating are probably saying to each other: “This is the best time to negotiate: the key supporters of Hamas (this is the group who governs the Gaza strip after a free and fair election) are at their weakest at the moment.”

This is one of the weaknesses of the current round of negotiations: the exclusion of Hamas, while quite radical and racist pro-settlement anti-Palestinian groups are represented at the negotiating table. If the talks fail, it will probably be because a significant amount of Palestinians feel left out of the talks. One of the key considerations for those involved in the current round of talks should therefore be to see to what extent Hamas can become involved in the talks (if they want to be). They could of course be invited and refuse to participate, but this will then be their choice.

The legitimacy of these talks:

The legitimacy of what is eventually decided through these negotiations will have to be tested in both Palestine and Israel, probably through referendums. If Hamas continues to be excluded and calls for a boycott of the referendum and most Palestinians do not take part, then the legitimacy of what has been negotiated will be called into question (and the Israeli’s will then say: “You see, these Palestinians are not to be trusted, etc”).

There was a similar referendum (for whites only) in South Africa in 1990 and again, while some groups called it racist and illegitimate, someone such as Archbishop Tutu encouraged it to happen despite much criticism against him. Pres de Klerk won the referendum and was given a huge vote of confidence to go ahead with negotiating with the ANC and other political formations.

The reason for negotiating should not be to further weaken opponents, but to set in motion a process that would lead to a society where human rights FOR ALL are respected and institutionalised (and not only human rights for the elite).

The ANC in South Africa also had offshoots such as the PAC, who were seen as more “radical” than the ANC.  But they all – except some extreme leftist groups – took part in the negotiations. Some of the left groups still encourage their people not to vote in the elections in South Africa. This is their right, but it does mean that they are effectively left out of the formal political arrangements in South Africa. But they can continue to act in other ways as citizens without voting…voting is one way to express citizenship. The opposite is of course also true: many people vote but do very little besides voting. Those who are totally apathetic or cynical do not vote and do not act out their citizenship either (except perhaps to pay taxes).

The balance of power:

This has shifted quite significantly over the last few years, in favour of the Palestinians. The BDS campaign has had several high profile successes (Stephen Hawking, Stevie Wonder, Mira Nair, etc). It is important to stress that the BDS campaign must continue and be strengthened until the Palestinian civil society groups call on us to stop the campaign.

At the United Nations and UNESCO, there have been several victories for the Palestinian people over the last few years.

The EU recently also insisted that goods produced in the settlements will be treated differently than goods produced in Israel.

Even the last election in Israel produced a shift in the balance of power, with Tzipi Livni (the current justice minister) receiving more votes than many expected and subsequently joining the current governing coalition in Israel.

One can mention many many more small and big things (eg the fact that Pres Obama is more secure in his second term), but the point is that the balance of power in Israel, Palestine and the Middle East region has shifted towards those Palestinians (and Israelis) who are looking for a credible and practical way forward.

What should we do as South Africans?

  1. We should continue to pray      for true peace and justice in Palestine and Israel. From September 22 –      28, we can all support the World Council of Churches Prayer for Peace in Palestine      and Israel with “Jerusalem: city of peace and justice” as the theme.      Please see http://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/events/world-week-for-peace-in-palestine-israel     
  2. Those going on pilgrimages      to the Holy Land should insist to meet with Palestinian Christians – the      “living stones”- and sleep over in Bethlehem (rather than rushing in and      out and only going to see the “dead stones”). It will be even better if      the Palestinian Christians are your guides in the Holy Land (see www.atg.ps )
  3. We should continue to      support the weaker party (the Palestinians), mainly through BDS.
  4. We should insist that      Jerusalem belongs to all who live in it, Palestine and Israeli. That      should be a non-negotiable (at this moment Israel wants to have all of      Jerusalem for itself).
  5. We should do all we can to      find ways of engaging all parties to ensure that Hamas eventually become      part of the talks (provided the talks are in fact credible).
    We should work and pray for the interests of all those involved in this conflict, especially the refugees who have been in other surrounding countries for many years now and who would like to return to their homeland. Many of them are caught up in the current wars and we should work that all, and especially the women and children, are able to return to peace and security.


Rev Edwin Arrison  31 July 2013


6 responses to this post.

  1. Thank you so much for this excellent discussion and analysis, Edwin. The fruitlessness of this current round is guaranteed for the very reasons that you outline. Your emphasis on BDS as a global movement and the importance of the inclusion of all parties at the table are spot on. The lessons of the South African struggle continue to inform us now, and in fact continue to increase in relevance and power as the situation with Palestine sinks deeper into racism and Israel rushes ever more quickly toward the inevitable crisis of identity that must occur in order to ensure a decent future for its citizens. God bless you in your work and may your voice continue to be strong and true.

    Mark Braverman, Kairos USA



  2. Posted by willie goyws on July 31, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    You are so misled. Please be biblical not theological. Yahweh is the owner of Israel and He gave it to Israel, mainly the Jews. Sorry, but you will reap Yahweh’s judgement.

    Rev Willie Gouws
    Stillbay, RSA



  3. Posted by Ben Levitas on August 1, 2013 at 8:59 am

    One would assume that all people of good intent, should be pleased that peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis have commenced. After all, three years have transpired since the last time the two parties came close to talking to each other. Surely it matters not, how they arrived at the negotiating table, but that thankfully talks have resumed. Surely it is preferable to talk about the issues that divide, than to fight over the issues that divide. Surely, focusing the minds of both parties on finding common ground and on ending generations of conflict to secure a peaceful neighbourhood for the next generation, is worthier than planning the next boycott or destructive act.
    When however, ‘men of the cloth’ who purport to espouse love and peace of all humanity and particularly of the ‘weak’ speak out against giving peace a chance, and question the ‘credibility’ of the current peace process then their motives need to be probed . When Rev Edwin Arrison on the 31st of July 2013, questioned the ‘credibility’ of Kerry’s imitative, and called for a continuation of Boycotts and sanctions against Israel, he contradicted his pre-existing stance which called for the parties to resolve their differences through negotiations. The main grounds for Rev Arison’s objections, that negotiations exclude Hamas, reveals his cynicism and underlying fear that indeed progress may be made towards a peaceful Middle East. The Reverend is in denial, because Hamas does not want to negotiate with Israel-negotiation implies recognition of the other party. Hamas does not recognise Israel. Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Hamas is dedicated to the murder of every Jew in Israel and committed to an Islamic state, in which even Reverend Arison’s flock will only be second class citizens. The Reverend is trapped in his Apartheid time warp, by likening the Pan African Congress Party to Hamas. He fails to acknowledge some fundamental differences between the PAC and Hamas, namely, that Hamas is a religiously inspired fundamentalist movement, which the PAC never was. In Hamas’s weltanschauung, the right to the land is a religious right and this right is entitled only to Muslims. The PAC moreover were never committed to kill and destroy all whites and minorities that participated in the tri-cameral parliament. While true that the PAC was more ‘radical’ than the ANC, they were still prepared to recognise and talk to the powers that existed at the time. It is not only disingenuous to compare Hamas to the PAC, but it insults what the PAC actually stood for and still stands for, to compare them.
    The Reverend also fails to acknowledge that Hamas is not recognized by any Western states, or even by the United Nations, as being representative of the Palestinian people. By calling for their inclusion, he fails to recognize the fragility and precariousness of a very tenuous process, just to get the parties to the table. By insisting on the participation of a self destructive, hate infused party as a precursor to talks, he reveals his true intent, to undermine these attempts at achieving peace, so that he can continue with his self proclaimed righteous crusade aimed at punishing only Israel. With peace he would be a rebel without a cause.
    The Reverend should heed the words of the Book on which his faith is based;
    • Psalm 34:14
    “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it”.
    Ben Levitas
    Chairman SA Zionist Fedration Cape Council



    • I do not know where to begin to start responding to Mr Levitas’ diatribe. I will definitely not respond to everything as he either does not understand English or he is deliberately trying to confuse readers.

      I am sure Mr Levitas does not have a high view of former USA President Carter, but even he has urged the USA to include Hamas in the negotiations, so I am not proposing anything radically new. Perhaps you should read the Likud Charter as well and ask yourself if your ruling party is any different to Hamas. It does not even recognise Palestine and supports the settlements, so how it can even truthfully negotiate for a two-state solution (I am now told that land swaps has been added to the equation) within their current apartheid framework is anyone’s guess. I remain hopeful that some settlement can be reached, but I repeat what I wrote above and what those who even negotiated in Northern Ireland will tell you: excluding key groupings mean you are working towards no solution. But this might be your strategy in the first place….unfotunately for you some of us can see through your strategies and tactics….



  4. This is a good example of the fear-based psychology that is used to justify the indefensible actions of Israel (and its US backer). How good to have Hamas (like Iran) to deflect from the real reason there is no peace, which is Israel’s expansionism and the abrogation of Palestinian rights. Any resistance which arises from Palestinians, including the violent forms, must be seen as a response to the historic and present conditions of dispossession and denial of fundamental human rights – not as arising from age-old hatred of Jews or the aim to destroy Israel (even if we take Hamas at its word, what does it mean to do away with Israel? It does not mean to kill the Jews. Was the aim of the Union in Civil War to kill all the white southerners?). The appeal to Hamas as the bogeyman is disingenuous. As long as you can blame the other side for failure, you can keep up the negotiations which are in bad faith and based on false assumptions (Israel wants a real Palestinian state, the U.S. is an honest broker), which plays into Israel’s game of keeping fruitless talk going while it completes the building of Apartheid. No, Hamas is not the PAC, and there a lots of differences between the South African and Israel-Palestine case. But as apartheid in our time progresses, every day the similarities grow stronger. Negotiations are a liberal/moderate approach that will no longer work, just like they didn’t for the Civil Rights movement and for South Africa in the 80s. Here’s the big similarity – in the 80s the Pretoria government was offering a two-state solution. One that looks more and more like what we have now in the single apartheid state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan called Israel. For South Africa then, “negotiations” between the parties would have led to a legitimization of the white-dominated Bantustan political system in place. The South African churches did not accept that, the freedom and justice movement in South Africa didn’t accept that, and after Ottawa the global church did not accept that. The reality in Israel-Palestine that exists now is no more acceptable. Let the Ps work out their politics – the world has a job to do. Which is, as Rev Arrison has set out, is to continue to build the nonviolent, grassroots movement that will move the politics in direction it needs to go, the only direction that will ensure not only liberation for the Palestinians, but a decent future for the citizens of Israel.

    “Let justice roll down like the waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: