Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday voiced support for Israeli members of Knesset who oppose a plan to formalize Israel’s status as a Jewish state.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is promoting a bill to have the country’s de facto constitution enshrine this in law.
Speaking during a visit to South Africa, Abbas said it is important that the Israeli government and citizens consider what the proposed law may mean for peace in the region.
South African President Jacob Zuma said during the ceremony welcoming Abbas that Netanyahu’s support for the bill showed Israel’s refusal to find a solution to the conflict with Palestine.
“From where we stand, it looks like Israel is saying ‘We don’t care. We do whatever pleases us,'” said Zuma. “I don’t think that’s how the business of global relations should be conducted.”
Zuma also said Israel’s settlements policy is “undermining” prospects for a two state solution.
“The reality is that the overwhelming majority in the world agrees with the position of two states living side by side in peace, but we have a problem of a country that is defying all of that,” said Zuma.
“We reiterate our call for the total cessation of all settlement activities,” Zuma told a joint news conference with Abbas.
South Africa was ready to assist with negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and had appointed two special envoys for the task, Zuma added.
Criticizing the way the United Nations works, he added: “I don’t think the system should allow that one country can defy the world.”
Abbas said the Palestinians sought to benefit from South Africa’s “successful experiences” in building an independent state.
“We are the last nation in the world that is still living under occupation,” he said.
Zuma’s ruling African National Congress is a firm supporter of the Palestinian cause, with politicians regularly comparing Israel to the former racist apartheid state in South Africa.
The white minority government had cooperative relations with Israel, but when Nelson Mandela was elected first democratic president in 1994, he pledged to support Palestine, saying: “South Africa’s freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
Abbas was greeted with a 21-gun salute at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital.
He has visited South Africa before — last year he attended Mandela’s funeral — but officials said this is his first state visit.
“People of South Africa and Palestine have a strong bond built in the trenches of our two struggles, we want to build even stronger relations and cooperation based on that historical relationship,” said Zuma.
Abbas’s visit comes days after UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged Israel and the Palestinians to “step back from the brink” and return to peace talks amid European moves toward recognizing Palestine.
His comments reflected international alarm over the spate of violent attacks in east Jerusalem and the deadlock over peace talks that are fueling fear of another flareup after the war in Gaza earlier this year.
With no political solution in sight, governments and parliaments in Europe are moving towards Palestinian recognition, with France’s National Assembly set vote on a non-binding resolution on December 2.
That follows Sweden’s announcement that it will recognize Palestine and non-binding votes in the British and Spanish parliament in favor of recognizing Palestinian statehood.