South African President Thabo Mbeki accepted an invitation to visit the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) extended to him during a three-day visit by President Mahmoud Abbas, who urged South Africa to play a significant role in the Middle East peace process.

Abbas was accompanied by Yasser Abed Rabbo, member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeineh.

“President Abbas’s state visit to South Africa comes within the context of South Africa’s priority to promote the peaceful resolution of conflict and post-conflict reconstruction and development in the Middle East through continued dialogue with both the Israelis and Palestinians,” the foreign affairs department said earlier this week.

Mbeki accepted Abbas’ invitation to visit Palestine.

“I was pleased to get an invitation to visit Palestine as soon as possible and I have agreed to that,” Mbeki told a joint news conference following talks in Cape Town with Abbas.

“We will see when to do that,” he added.

South Africa is willing to lend its voice “to move forward to find a peaceful solution [to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict],” he told reporters.

Mbeki added that the Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils and Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad were due to visit the region next week.

South Africa has also invited the leaders of the Islamic Resistance Movement “Hamas” to visit, but no date has been set, Sapa-AP had reported.

Mbeki in January congratulated Hamas on its parliamentary election victory, and Abbas for being elected president.

In response to questions by MPs in the National Assembly on Thursday, Mbeki said: “It’s important to respect the will of the Palestinian people, they elected Hamas. Historically, even the organization I come from had never worked with Hamas but we need to respect the will of the people of Palestine.”

Abbas confirmed Hamas’ visit to Cape Town.

“South Africa will talk to Hamas and they must listen to their advice,” Abbas told the joint news conference.

“The Palestinian people should not be punished because they chose democracy,” Abbas said.

PLO Is the ‘Political Address’

However Abbas insisted that the PLO is the “political address” for the Palestinian people, but wished the new Hamas government success.

“In respect of whatever the international community thinks,” he added, “the PLO is the political address [for the Palestinian people]. I have said that clearly to Hamas.”

The PLO is committed to “all regional and international commitments we have made,” he said, adding: “We have signed the Oslo agreement that we solve all our problems through negotiations – the Roadmap (for peace) shows the ways we should negotiate.”

Referring to pronounced plans by the Israeli Kadima party, Abbas said: “Unilateral decisions will only delay any solution, not solve it. We are committed to [US] President [George] Bush’s vision for solving the Middle East conflict [through the Roadmap to peace]”

“We want Hamas to succeed and we give them the right advice for them to succeed,” he said, speaking through an Arabic-English translator.

Abbas said that South African leaders can play a productive role in the peace process.

“I know that they [South Africa] have a good relationship with all the parties … with the Israelis, with the Palestinians and the United States,” Abbas said after meeting former president Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg.

“I think that they can play a productive role in the peace process,” Abbas said.

South Africa in Solidarity with Palestinian People

South Africa supports a two-state solution to the conflict, but feels solidarity with the Palestinian people.

In a toast at a dinner in honor of Abbas late Friday, Mbeki said: “This visit is very special to all of us because for many decades both our peoples have occupied the same trenches, and shared similar experiences and anxieties in our quest for freedom and independence,” Mbeki said according to a released text of his speech.

Mbeki expressed his wish for a negotiated solution, saying that unilateral actions would not facilitate a lasting solution.

Mbeki said that South Africa’s peaceful dismantling of apartheid and transition to multiparty democracy should serve as an example in the Middle East.

“We are convinced that there is no other road to peace between Palestine and Israel except the road of negotiations to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution,” he said.

“In this regard, it is perfectly obvious that unilateral action can never produce a permanent solution, but would only serve to complicate an already difficult situation,” President Mbeki said.

“As in the past,” Mbeki told the Palestinian leader, “the government and people of South Africa are ready to offer whatever support they can towards the goal of creating an independent State of Palestine with its headquarters in Jerusalem existing side by side and in conditions of peace with the State of Israel.”

Mbeki said South Africa engaged in its own “peace of the brave,” “as it became clear’,” in the immediate years preceding South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, “that the guns and bombs that for many years advanced our struggle would soon turn into obstacles blocking the advance to the same freedom for which we fought.”

Abbas Meets Mandela

Abbas also met Nelson Mandela, the former president, during a brief courtesy visit to Mandela’s Johannesburg home, and paid tribute to him as the “father of all liberation movements.”

Abbas also called on international donors to continue with aid and other funding to the Palestinians, as well as for Israel to release funds to the Palestinians under previous agreements, saying the Palestinian people “should not be punished because they have chosen democracy.”

“We call on the international community to look on our experiences from a very practical and realistic way,” Abbas said.

“The funds [to the Palestinians] should continue.”

Abbas held talks with South African Jewish and Muslim leaders as well as Arab ambassadors based in South Africa and met with King Abdullah II met on Friday in Cape Town.

Addressing National Assembly

He also addressed the South African National Assembly (parliament).

The Palestinian people are looking towards South Africa “as a model from which we draw lessons and inspirations,” he told MPs.

He conveyed to South African MPs the sincere greetings of the Palestinian people, members of the PLO National Council and “members of the newly-elected Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).”

In his speech to parliament on Friday, after meeting Mbeki, Abbas said: “The Palestinian people are proud of the historic and strong bonds of relations with the people of South Africa and are looking towards your country as a model from which we draw lessons and inspirations, to continue our march to achieve a just and comprehensive peace and regain our rights of self determination, and establishment of an independent state of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital.”

The Palestinian people were “living under extremely difficult and dangerous conditions, where they are subjected to all kinds of torture, siege, suffocation, and confiscation of land by Israel – the occupying force,” he told the National Assembly.

“These aggressive and illegal practices are aimed at establishing its occupation, illegal settlement in our land and to undermine the peace process and all the regional and international initiatives to reviving it,” he added.

“Your participation and advice, is essential under these complex and difficult circumstances, and we are confident that, with our dear friend President Mbeki and members of his government, we can reach common position, through which we can push towards reviving the peace process in our region,” Abbas told South African lawmakers.

“We Palestinians are very keen and interested in learning more about your experience that will help us to advance the political process in the Middle East,” he added.

“We welcome any effort that your government would make and we assure you, that despite all our suffering, we will remain committed to all peace initiatives and continue to be responsible and objective in positively responding to all regional, international efforts and initiatives aimed at reviving and protecting the peace process,” said Abbas.

“Given all the difficult circumstances, we need your continued support, together with the international community,” he said.

Israel’s Unilateral Redrawing of Final Borders Rejected

Referring to the Israeli plan of Israel’s Kadima party and Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to unilaterally redraw the final borders of Israel, Abbas said: “We vehemently reject” obstruction of the negotiation process by Israel, “to replace it with the iron fist and unilateral policies.”

“We have agreed to the Road Map sponsored by the Quartet [Russia, the US, the EU and the UN] Committee,” he said.

“The government of Israel, however, has put forward fourteen reservations on this plan, and has relied on its force and influence to continue expansionist policies and oppression against our people. It has misled the world by creating the impression that there is no Palestinian partner to negotiate with.”

“The real obstacle,” said Abbas, “is the Israeli obstinate stance from the one side, and the lack of effective intervention by the international community from the other.”

“It is unacceptable to use the victory of Hamas in the elections of the second Palestinian Legislative Council, as an excuse to increase the Israeli aggression against our people and punish our people for its democratic choice,” he added.

“Peace with good intentions in the Middle East, it is possible to be achieved,” he concluded.

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