The South African government must step up
Iqbal Jassat’s article (Politicsweb 17 February 2016) is a plea for the government to follow the ANC’s firmness in supporting the Palestinian cause and passing resolutions to bolster this support. Jassat's position is clearly one of total victory by the Palestinians over the Israelis to achieve a one state solution which would see the destruction of the Jewish state, with a contribution by ‘Zuma’s machine gun’.
A government is always in a very different position to a political party. Its perspective has to be wider and more inclusive than supporting one side over another.
The South African government, including the ANC, have always held a unique position with regard to the resolution of conflict. Or rather they could have if they lived up to the oft-expressed reputation for settling that most egregious of conflicts, apartheid. The ANC has been lauded universally for negotiating a definite end to apartheid rather than continuing to pursue an end through violence which guaranteed nothing.
Prior to the constitutional negotiations, the liberalisation of industrial relations in the 1980s allowed South African business and labour to understand and develop negotiation as the given method for handling industrial disputes. This process formed the basis of the skills of the ANC’s negotiators. The lessons learned from this period were universal.
Each party comes to a negotiation with its own strengths and weaknesses. And yet each party must be accorded the same respect in the negotiations. It is in plain terms a process of give and take. Process is as vital to successful mediation as substance.
This is not to say that both parties are not confronted with the real truths about their respective positions, but these are dealt with through a variety of different processes. Sometimes it takes time. But it is a crucial aspect of any mediation process that one doesn’t show partiality, whatever one may feel, and that all the issues are canvassed.
It doesn’t matter whether a mediator personally feels that one party’s position is supportable and the other’s position is not. It is crucial to understand what both party’s fears are. A mediator must attempt to walk in both parties’ shoes.
There is nothing inherent in the Israel/Palestinian conflict that makes it an exception to the rule of the hard slog of negotiation.
There are few allies of Israel who support the settlement building and ‘land grabs’ that Jassat opposes, but the context is not only Palestinian. For Israelis and Jews the fear of attack and annihilation by Muslim neigbours is profound. But matters not what Israel’s detractors think of those fears, they have to be adressed in negotiations. No amount of self-righteous indignation that the Palestinians would never resort to such a thing will do.
A second ironic factor is that as time has passed and peace agreements have been refused or failed, as a democracy Israel has changed. The minority nationalists and religious dogmatists have gained electoral strength. This has had a normal if highly unhelpful effect on solving the problem.
Have regard to a peace process to which South Africa did contribute: Northern Ireland. This was a centuries old dispute with features of brutal colonialism, poverty, religious strife and discrimination. Some of the most brutal acts of terrorism were carried out by both the Catholics and the Protestants.
Although the ANC had longstanding ties to the Irish Republican Army British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, invited Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC’s key negotiator in our negotiations, to play a role in the decommissioning of IRA arms on behalf of the International Crisis Group, a third-party mediator.
The media reported that Ramaphosa's involvement followed continuing support of the South African government for the peace process, and the exchange of expertise in conflict-management because of the historical similarities between South Africa and Ireland.
For a complex variety of reasons the Marikana tragedy was not preceded by negotiations.
This is not the South African way. The government should not step down to Jassat’s plate; it should step up to its well-earned role of helping to secure compromise.
Sara Gon is a Policy Fellow at the IRR, a think tank that promotes economic and political liberty. Follow the IRR on Twitter @IRR_SouthAfrica.