JOHN STEENHUISEN: Peace must take precedence in Palestine and Israel
Rationality must triumph over radicalism for there to be real and lasting peace in the Middle East
The DA stands in solidarity with both Palestinians and Israelis who seek a two-state solution. We stand against radicalism and violence. We reject any sentiment that seeks to annihilate either Israel or Palestine. We embrace rationality based on peaceful co-existence for both a secure Israel and a free Palestinian state. We embrace the right of both Palestinians and Israelis to statehood and sovereignty.
The DA is deeply concerned by the escalation of violence and the death toll in both Gaza and the West Bank, which continues to rise. Even as the fighting rages we call on all peace-loving South Africans to recognise the deeper conflict playing out on both sides of this war. It is a war between radicalism, which seeks the annihilation of the other side, and rationality, which recognises the inherent right of both Israelis and Palestinians to statehood, sovereignty and security.
For peace to be possible, rationality rather than radicalism must win the day on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides of this conflict. The DA does not seek the destruction of one side by the other. We seek the triumph of rational forces, committed to peaceful co-existence, on all sides of this terrible conflict.
In Palestine, radicalism is represented by Hamas. The DA, along with most of the world, regards Hamas as a terrorist organisation opposed to peace and to a two-state solution. We condemn the recent comments by the leader of Hamas threatening ongoing repeats of the October 7 terrorist attacks on Israel.
Part of the path to peace involves eliminating Hamas’ capacity to use Gaza as a staging ground for terror attacks and as a supply base for its militants. Palestinians deserve rational and courageous leaders, free from the influence of fundamentalists who agitate for the annihilation of Israel. And Palestinian leadership requires a democratic mandate. The president of the Palestinian Authority has sidelined potential rivals and a fully-fledged democratic election has not been held since 2006. Hamas and other radicals do not have any credible mandate to represent the Palestinian people.
Palestinians aren’t defined by Hamas
But the people of Palestine are not defined by Hamas. The DA stands in solidarity with Palestinians who desire a sovereign and secure Palestinian state alongside a sovereign and secure Israel. We call for the urgent provision of adequate humanitarian aid to Gaza, including food, fuel, and medical supplies. Humanitarian corridors must be created and respected to ensure the free flow of aid to civilian populations. Safe zones need to be established in southern Gaza, Egypt and potentially the Negev, which will display good faith on the part of Israel, for the acceptance of displaced Palestinian civilians.
Such safe zones would also make it easier to distribute medical supplies and other humanitarian aid to the innocent victims of this conflict. The DA supports the call by UN agencies for urgent humanitarian pauses in the fighting to be implemented, to ensure the safe expansion of aid flows into Gaza, and to allow more civilians to reach safe zones until such time as the Palestinian State is free from the grip of terror. We also recognise the right of return of Palestinian refugees, who have been driven from their homeland by decades of conflict.
In Israel, radicalism is represented by influential hard-line factions within the current government. The DA condemns recent comments by Israeli officials contemplating the use of nuclear weapons in Gaza. The DA condemns any suggestion that innocent civilians in Palestine must be subject to collective punishment by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) for the atrocities committed by Hamas.
We recognise the way in which actions of the Israeli government, including the expansion of settlements deemed illegal under international law and, in some instances, by the country’s Supreme Court, has contributed to obstructing the path to peace. While the DA recognises Israel’s right to defend itself, and to deal with Hamas in a manner that ensures a path to lasting peace in the region, we call on the Israeli government to uphold international law and significantly enhance access to humanitarian aid in Gaza.
The DA reaffirms the principles outlined in Article 51 of the 1977 Protocol I of the Geneva Convention, which prohibits, and regards as a war crime the carpet bombing of cities, towns, villages and other areas containing a concentration of civilians. Where Israeli military forces or their commanders target civilians or violate international law, they must be swiftly brought to justice.
Like Gaza, Israel deserves rational and courageous leadership that upholds international law and operates free from the influence of fundamentalists who agitate for the destruction of Palestine. The country needs a new direction from its government, based upon a credible plan for peace that includes addressing Israeli settlement in the West Bank and ensuring that commitments made in line with UN Security Council Resolution 242 are finally upheld.
Israeli hardliners don’t define Israel
Just as Hamas does not represent all Palestinians, hardliners in the current Israeli cabinet do not represent all Israelis. The DA stands in solidarity with Israelis who desire a sovereign and secure Israel alongside a sovereign and secure Palestinian state. We are deeply alarmed by, and condemn, signs of rising anti-Semitism in parts of the world.
The world needs to urgently start building the conditions for peace. The current volume of humanitarian aid flowing into Gaza is insufficient to meet the need and there should be no obstruction of such aid. We must avoid a regional escalation. This is particularly urgent as militias such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen are now considerably more powerful than the governments of the countries in which they operate.
We call on the governments in these Arab countries to take a strong stance against militias using their territory as launching pads for attacks. We call on Jordan and Egypt to ensure that all refugee and border-related concessions are dependent on the free flow of aid and the provision of urgent medical assistance to injured civilians in Gaza. It is important to recognise that, once hostilities have concluded, the IDF will not be able to credibly serve as a peacekeeping force in Gaza. This would have to be done by an international peacekeeping team, preferably including a coalition of Arab states that do not support Hamas and operate outside the influence of Iran.
Gaza will require a competent transitional government as soon as possible. Such a transitional government will have to be formed out of a coalition of actors and be perceived as legitimate, effective, and committed to peaceful co-existence alongside Israel. A transitional government must be ready to enter the territory, restore order, and reassert Palestinian rule by establishing a road map towards free and fair elections in both Gaza and the West Bank.
The DA remains committed to a negotiated, viable and sustainable two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, where Israel has the right to exist, in peace, side-by-side with a free and unoccupied Palestine. This is in line with UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. We call on all nations to work towards achieving this objective. For the two-state solution to work, the expansion of Israeli settlement into the West Bank must end. At the same time, the tunnel network built by Hamas must be destroyed.
A rational solution needs to be found to address Israeli settlements that have been constructed on Palestinian territory, often in an illegal fashion and on some of the best land in the territory. The end goal of negotiations over how to address these settlements must be the creation of a free Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank alongside a secure Israel. This new Palestinian state must enjoy full recognition by Israel. Jerusalem should become a shared capital of both Israel and Palestine, with a form of joint management over the sacred Old City.
However, none of this will be possible until radicalism is replaced by rationality in both Palestinian and Israeli leadership. As the official opposition in SA the DA will continue to agitate for a peaceful resolution to this conflict that culminates in a two-state solution. We will use our position to pressure the SA government to refrain from embracing radicalism on any side of this conflict, and to ensure that our country’s foreign policy reflects our country’s constitutional values.
• Steenhuisen is DA leader.