Confusion reigns within S. Africa ruling party’s policy towards Israel

"Despite the ANC’s decision, South Africa continues to have full diplomatic relations with Israel."

February 21, 2018 18:41
2 minute read.
A protestor outside the Israeli embassy in Pretoria, South Africa

A protester and member of South Africa's ultra-left Economic Freedom Fighters party (EFF), carries a placard outside the Israeli embassy in Pretoria, South Africa. (photo credit: SIPHIWE SIBEKO/REUTERS)

There seems to be some confusion within South Africa’s ruling party over what to do with the country’s diplomatic ties with Israel.

On Tuesday, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor, who is a top contender for the vice presidency, said that “the majority party [the African National Congress] has agreed that government must cut diplomatic ties with Israel, given the absence of genuine initiatives by Israel to secure lasting peace and a viable two-state solution that includes full freedom and democracy for the Palestinian people.”

Pandor made the remarks during a debate following Friday night’s State of the Nation Address by the country’s President Cyril Ramaphosa – who was vice president and has now left that position vacant since taking Jacob Zuma’s place.

As she made the remarks, loud cheers and clapping were heard from the ANC’s side of the parliamentary caucus.

Her remarks later created a Twitter storm, with some lauding the statement and saying it was “long overdue,” while others said it “was unfortunate,” “foolish” and “unexpected.”

However, no such resolution was ever approved. It seems that Pandor was referring to the ANC’s decision to downgrade the South African Embassy in Israel to a liaison office, made during its 54th Annual Congress in December. A resolution that still needs to be debated and decided upon within the country’s parliamentary structure before it can become a government policy.

In response to Pandor’s comments, Ramaphosa voiced support for a two-state solution, which, to a point, contradicted her earlier statements. “We reiterate our call to the Israeli government to engage in meaningful dialogue with the Palestinian leaders to find a resolution that affirms the equal rights of both people to self-determination, freedom and security,” he said.

He made no reference to severing ties with Israel or to the embassy downgrade.

He was, however, critical of the Israeli government for arresting Palestinian minors. “At this moment we wish to express our deepest concern at the continued imprisonment of Palestinian children in Israeli jails,” Ramaphosa said, in reference to the detention of 17-year-old Ahed Tamimi, for which he received thunderous applause.

Tamimi was arrested in December after a video of her hitting two soldiers went viral.

The resolution the ANC adopted during its December conference reads: “In order to give our practical expression to the oppressed people of Palestine, the ANC has unanimously resolved to direct the South African government to... immediately downgrade the South African Embassy in Israel... to a liaison office.

“We concur with the PLO leader, Jibril Rajoub, who was at our conference, and explained that the downgrade of the SA Embassy in Israel will send a clear message to Israel that there is a price to pay for its human rights abuses and violations of international law,” the resolution continued.

At the time, South African Zionist Federation chairman Ben Swartz said that this was not the end of the road.

“Despite the ANC’s decision, South Africa continues to have full diplomatic relations with Israel. That situation would only change should the South African government decide to adopt the recommendation as its official policy. We will be engaging closely with government on this issue,” he said. “We have already been approached by different interest groups who have expressed a willingness in helping us ensure this never becomes government policy.

“We assure you that we will do all that we can to ensure that the downgrade does not become a reality,” Swartz said.

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