Ramaphosa defends ties with Israel

Cape Town - South Africa will lose its leverage to mediate in the Middle East if it heeds calls to sever ties with Israel, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Wednesday.

Ramaphosa, answering questions in the National Council of Provinces, rejected a suggestion by Economic Freedom Fighters MP Leigh-Ann Mathys that it was unconscionable to maintain diplomatic ties with "an apartheid state".

"The government of South Africa has communicated its unequivocal and strongest condemnation of Israeli against Palestinians in Gaza to the government of the state of Israel, and we have done this through a number of measures.

But he added: "Maintaining diplomatic relations with Israel allows our country to continue to engage with Israel on issues of mutual interest, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

He said it enabled President Jacob Zuma to dispatch two special envoys, former minister Zola Skweyiya and deputy minister Aziz Pahad, to the Middle East for talks with both sides to the conflict.

He added that they managed to "make South Africa's voice heard very clearly".

"This we would not have been able to do if we had curtailed diplomatic relations with the state of Israel. We chose to remain engaged with the state of Israel because it is often best when you want to solve problems to remain engaged so that can have some leverage."

He said it allowed South Africa to maintain its presence in Ramallah.

Ramaphosa reiterated that only a negotiated settlement would provide a lasting resolution to the conflict, and hoped the ceasefire agreement reached on Tuesday would pave the way for such a deal.