POLITICS

DA Defends Maimane's Israel Visit, Explains He Also Visited Palestine

The South African government maintains a relationship with the Jewish state, and supports a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.

13/01/2017 08:14 SAST | Updated 13/01/2017 12:36 SAST
DA leader Mmusi Maimane (left) and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has hit back at criticism to Mmusi Maimane's decision to visit to Israel.

Phumzile van Damme, the party's spokesperson, said in a statement on Thursday DA leader Maimane, met with political leaders in both Israel and Palestine, and that the party supported the two-state solution, which is also the official position of the South African state and the United Nations.

A social media storm erupted after a picture was circulated of the meeting between Maimane and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu's government is considered right-wing and conservative, and has been condemned for its treatment of Palestine and its people. Israel received increased criticism over the past few weeks because of its apparent hard-line attitude to keeping Israeli settlements in disputed territories.

The ANC, which is pro-Palestine, accused the DA of "endorsing the Israeli government instead of condemning its violations of international law", it said in a statement. It accused the opposition party of never standing in solidarity with the Palestinians, and failing to challenge the Israeli government on what it says are human rights violations. The ANC said the trip was aimed at undermining the government's standing in the international community. At the ANC's January 8 Statement on Sunday, president Jacob Zuma discouraged ANC members and representatives from visiting Israel.

"The allegations that the Democratic Alliance is funded and controlled by Apartheid Israel sympathisers seems to be true," the ANC added.

Van Damme said however Maimane is visiting the two countries to "listen and learn".

"He is also discussing how South Africa can play a more constructive role in bringing the parties together for peace. He is also there, as a person of deep faith, to visit some of the most important holy places that are of spiritual meaning to him."

"Maimane also met with Palestinian officials in Ramallah and Rawabi, and with Palestinian human rights activists. He has also met with senior representatives of the Palestinian and Israeli business community to discuss how business and trade can be used to advance peace when politics is failing to make progress."

Van Damme added Maimane also met with the leader of Israel's opposition.

"A meeting with the President of the Palestinian Authority, President Mahmoud Abbas, was scheduled, but was cancelled by his office due to a scheduling conflict in the his diary.

The ANC has said the DA placed itself on the wrong side of history by choosing the side of the oppressors and not the oppressed, and by failing to condemn Israel's "apartheid policies" and violations of international law. This included the building of illegal settlements and the "inhumane Gaza siege".

South Africa and Israel maintain diplomatic ties, with a joint commission of co-operation established and numerous bilateral agreements entered into, according to the department of international relations and cooperation. The South African government extended its condolences to the Israeli government on Monday after four Israeli soldiers were killed in East Jerusalem, The Times of Israel reported.

Israel is also involved in numerous projects in South Africa, including the water, agriculture, science and technology industries. There are also regular meetings between senior diplomats as well as at the level of director-general.