Middle East Lawmakers Meet in South Africa for 3-day Retreat

South Africa has made a bid to play a stronger role in the Middle East peace process.

But it remains unclear whether the bid, highlighted by a three-day set of peace talks held here last week, will translate into the increased role that the South African government appears to want.

The three days of meetings hosted by South African President Thabo Mbeki focused largely on the South African experience of conflict resolution that led to a peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy in 1994.

Former South African Foreign Minister P.W. Botha, and Roelf Meyer, the National Party’s chief negotiator with Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress in the early 1990s, were among the leaders of the apartheid regime who participated in the talks.

Mbeki was present throughout, along with several members of his Cabinet. Among them was the minister of water affairs and forestry, Ronnie Kasrils, a Jewish politician who recently came out with a controversial call for South African Jews to join him in signing a petition on the Middle East that was regarded by many South African Jews as pro-Palestinian.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders who participated in the meeting in South Africa called for a return to peace talks without preconditions.

The group also called for an immediate freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Among these participants were Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, Knesset speaker Avraham Burg and Israel’s former justice minister, Yossi Beilin.

Their declaration is not expected to have an effect on either side’s leadership.

Tova Herzl, Israeli ambassador to South Africa, told JTA, “Israel welcomes anything that might bring the parties together, but we can’t disconnect it from anything that happens on the ground” — such as a recent smuggled arms shipment destined for the Palestinian Authority that was captured by Israel.

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