SA committed to finding lasting peace in Middle East

Pretoria: South Africa remains committed to bringing Israeli and Palestinian groups together to find lasting peace in the Middle East, says President Jacob Zuma.

Last year, President Zuma appointed senior former ministers Zola Skweyiya and Aziz Pahad as special envoys to the Middle East Peace Process. The President says the envoys have criss-crossed North Africa, the Middle East and Southern Europe soliciting and exchanging views to find a way forward in the impasse.

"We shall, in the future, invite to our shores different groups that are involved in the Middle East Peace Process so as to share with them our past experiences and to also exchange views with them," President Zuma said on Sunday evening.

He was speaking at the South African Jewish Board of Deputies Biennial National Conference held under the theme 'Gathering Voices - Combatting International Racism and Antisemitism' in Johannesburg.

President Zuma said the key to peace in the Middle East is the establishment of a free and sovereign Palestinian State, co-existing in peace with the State of Israel, based on the borders of June 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

"That can only come about through genuine and peaceful negotiations by all affected parties without any pre-conditions," said the President.

The South African government, he said, holds the view that a free Palestine is in no way against the existence of the State of Israel and the safety of the Israeli nation.

On the contrary, President Zuma believes that the establishment of the State of Palestine will lay a solid foundation for lasting peace in the Middle East.

President Zuma urged the Jewish community to remain seized with these efforts and to also make their contribution to bringing about a peaceful Middle East, saying South Africa has something to offer in the promotion of peace and tolerance in the world.

"We believe we have a lot of lessons to offer. We were able to put the past hatred and anger behind us and to work together to build a new society. We have a responsibility to assure nations that are going through conflict that peace is possible and achievable."

President Zuma also used his speech to call on the Jewish community to actively take part in the implementation of the National Development Plan to build a "truly united and non-racial state".

He said this was important especially in light of the slow world economic growth, which he said was made worse by rising geopolitical conflicts.

This, coupled with the drought and water scarcity conditions in various parts of the country, may have its own negative impact on the economy and jobs, especially in the agricultural sector.

"The threat of further job cuts in the mining and steel industry sectors is another serious cause for concern. We cannot afford to lose more jobs than have been lost already. We reiterate our call to employers not to use retrenchment as the first response to the economic crisis.

"This is a period for us to minimise what keeps us apart. Unity and solidarity are the most important weapons at our disposal at this time. We should minimise shouting at each other and analysing what is wrong with what each one is doing and spend more time contributing to finding solutions."