President Jacob Zuma received a standing applause in Washington DC after suggesting Israel and Palestine should take advice from South Africa about resolving their violent conflict.
Zuma told the National Press Club in the city, where the US-Africa Leaders summit is under way, that South Africa would not expel Israel’s ambassador Arthur Lenk in the wake of the conflict between Palestine and Israel.
“There was a demonstration in South Africa where the call was made,” he said, adding that South Africa was a free country and people were free to demonstrate to show how they felt.
“[Expelling] an ambassador is not going to solve anything,” he said.
Take a bigger view
Zuma said he believed South Africa has “an example in our own experience that we can offer to do something”.
He said: “We came from a conflict that nobody thought would ever be solved, institutionalised racism in South Africa.”
This was one of the solutions South Africa could offer to help solve the conflict and that it was necessary to take a bigger view.
He also made the point earlier at a breakfast meeting of the US Chamber of Commerce.
Zuma said he wanted to “express our outrage at the continued violence that is claiming scores of lives of civilians in Palestine”.
He told business leaders that South Africa added its voice to the United Nations “in condemning strongly the senseless shelling of civilian shelters by Israel”.
He said the two sides needed to sit and talk to arrive at the two-state solution of Palestine and Israel “living peacefully side by side”.
He said the two would not be able to make each other disappear from the face of the earth by continuing the violence. “There will never be a military solution… between Israel and Palestine,” he said.
Zuma in both speeches made the call for the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act to be extended for another 15 years when it comes up for renewal in the US Congress next year. This was as representatives from African countries were locked in all-day deliberations with American leaders about the issue.
Zuma is set to meet with US senators lobbying on this matter on Wednesday morning. This includes Chris Coons who chairs the African Affairs subcommittee in Senate and who is pushing for the renewal of Agoa.
Some members in the US Congress say South Africa as a middle income country should be excluded from the free-trade agreement.
Zuma, who had a full programme in Washington DC, still appeared frail following his sick leave in June.
At some point there was talk in diplomatic circles that his office had informed them that Zuma cancelled his dinner with powerful chief executive officers of South African and American companies as well as three other heads of state on advice of his doctors.
Zuma’s spokesperson Mac Maharaj, however, denied that this was the case.
African heads of state are set to attend a dinner hosted by President Barack Obama on Tuesday night, the biggest during his Presidency.
The US-Africa Leaders summit is set to take place on Wednesday.
Washington DC residents have been complaining about traffic jams in the city centre as roads have been cordoned off and black luxury vehicles and blue lights have taken over the streets around major hotels and meeting spots.