South Africa downgrades embassy in Israel to liaison office

"Our position on the matter of Israel has been very clearly expressed by the ruling party,” South African Foreign Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said.

April 6, 2019 22:21
2 minute read.
Protestors call for the severing of diplomatic ties with Israel during a march in Cape Town

Protestors call for the severing of diplomatic ties with Israel during a march in Cape Town, South Africa, May 15, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS)


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South Africa has downgraded its ties with Israel, the country’s Foreign Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said this week.

“We are in the process of following the downgrade resolution of the ruling party and stage one has been completed,” Sisulu said on Wednesday at a speech she delivered to the South African Institute of International Affairs.

Last year, South Africa recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv to protest Israel’s response to the Palestinian protesters along the Gaza border who were participating in the Hamas-led Great March of Return.

Sisulu later said that the ambassador would not be returning to Israel. But on Wednesday she clarified that the ambassador would not be replaced and that the status of the embassy had been changed.

“Our ambassador is back in South Africa, and we will not be replacing him. Our liaison office in Tel Aviv will have no political mandate, no trade mandate and no development cooperation mandate. It will not be responsible for trade and commercial activities.

“The focus of the Liaison Office would be on consular and the facilitation of people-to-people relations,” Sisulu said.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment on her statement.

The South African government is strongly pro-Palestinian and has been a harsh critic of Israel, particularly with regard to its treatment of the Palestinians. It is also angry over Israel’s refusal to withdraw to the pre-1967 lines.

South Africa is one of 10 non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and has pushed for action against Israel at the 15-member body which sits in New York.

“The situation between Israel and Palestine is one of the oldest issues on the Security Council’s agenda. It is one of the only issues that the Council has been meeting monthly on for several years,” Sisulu said.

She accused the United States of stymieing any UNSC action against Israel. The US is one of five permanent council members, all of whom have veto power.

“Little or no action is taken by the Council primarily because of the US veto. The Council has over the years adopted several landmark resolutions on the matter including, under the ‘land for peace’ formulation, Resolutions 338 and 242 (upon which the moribund peace process is based),” she said.

“These Resolutions require that Israel should withdraw from the territories it occupied in 1967 in exchange for comprehensive peace and recognition from its Arab neighbors. Our position on the matter of Israel has been very clearly expressed by the ruling party,” Sisulu said.

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