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South Africa’s Ties to `palestine’ Elicits Official Protest from Israel

South Africa has announced that it is establishing full diplomatic relations with the “State of Palestine,” a move that elicited protest form the Israeli government.

South African Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo made the announcement in Cape Town at a joint news conference earlier this month with Farouk Kaddoumi, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Tunis-based political department.

The Israeli government, in accordance with the Declaration of Principles signed with the PLO in Washington in September 1993, considers the issue of a Palestinian state a matter to be determined in the context of future negotiations with the PLO.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin criticized the move, saying, “It’s a decision that doesn’t help the peace process, and we’re very sorry about that doesn’t help the peace process, and we’re very sorry about that.”

The Israeli government has already lodged an official protest during a meeting between Nzo and Elazar Granot, Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, according to a spokesman for the Israeli Mission to the United Nations in New York.

“This is an unacceptable situation from our point of view,” the spokesman said.

“I don’t know of any country in the world that has established diplomatic relations with the State of Palestine. That’s because it doesn’t exist,” he added.

During the Cape Town news conference, Nzo said that his government was taking the step in the context of the country’s effort to become “a full member of the international community” in the wake of the victory of President Nelson Mandela in the country’s first all-race elections in April.

Nzo also said his country was acting “in concert” with other African nations and the countries of the Non-Aligned Movement, adding that “the vast majority of these states and organizations recognize the State of Palestine.”

He said South Africa “as a matter of principle, recognizes states and maintains normal diplomatic relations with them, regardless of their ideologies.”

Establishing relations with the Palestinians, he added, brings us on the same level as our relations with Israel, Jordan, Syria, Egypt” and other countries.

Nzo said the step was taken as part of his government’s commitment to the ongoing Middle East peace process. “I would like to emphasize that the formalization of our relationship with Palestine does not in any way affect our relationship with Israel or our support for their right to live within secure borders,” he said.

When introducing Kaddoumi at the news conference, Nzo described him as “not only the Palestinian foreign minister, but in fact the No. 2 in the PLO after Chairman [Yasser] Arafat.”

Kaddoumi, a member of the PLO’s 18-member executive committee, handles foreign relations for the PLO from Tunis because, under the terms of the accord with Israel, the PLO cannot maintain relations with foreign countries from either the Gaza Strip or West Bank enclave of Jericho, both of which fell under Palestinian autonomy in May.

Kaddoumi has been critical of some of Arafat’s policies in the self-rule areas and has boycotted PLO executive committee meetings, including the most recent one this week in Cairo.

During his remarks at the news conference, Kaddoumi said he had conveyed to Mandela the Palestinians’ determination to pursue regional peace and stability.

In the wake of the signing of the Declaration of Principles, a number of countries, including Germany, have established low-level economic interest sections in the palestinian self-rule zones. The Vatican established full diplomatic relations with the PLO in October.

It remains unclear what steps will be taken by the South African government as a result of its decision to normalize relations with the Palestinians.

It is unlikely that there will be a full exchange of ambassadors,” said Stephen Groundlingh, the South African consul in New York.

Instead, he said, a South African ambassador already holding Middle East portfolio “will probably be accredited” to deal with Palestinian officials.

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