From Juba to Jerusalem

Israel has the opportunity to midwife the birth of the UN’s newest member.

By AIDAN FISHMAN
July 23, 2011 23:52
Flag of South Sudan at UN headquarters

THE FLAG of South Sudan is raised in front of the UN head311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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As most already know, the international community welcomed a new nation on July 9, as South Sudan officially gained independence from its former Northern overlords. On July 14, the UN accepted South Sudan as its 193rd member state. But behind the jubilation throughout that country and among its exiles worldwide lurk feelings of doubt and even despair.

Their newborn state is one of the poorest in the world, with economic and public-health shortcomings that dwarf other international causes for concern, such as Gaza’s so-called humanitarian crisis. More than one in 10 children in South Sudan die before the age of five due to easily preventable diseases, while 90 percent of the population lives on less than $1 per day.

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Although there is abundant cause for concern, there are also reasons to be grateful for the opportunity that now lies before the people of South Sudan and the international community. The country will serve as a critical test case for Western nations as they seek to learn the lessons of previous failures in Africa and the Third World. Israel can play an important role in transforming South Sudan into a shining beacon of peaceful development for the region.

As World War II ground to a halt in 1945, the two new superpowers, the US and the USSR, made it known that the era of colonialism was over. Although their ideological and pragmatic disputes would soon lead to the Cold War, both victors agreed that European nations such as France and Britain needed to grant independence to their erstwhile African and Asian colonies.

Teh colonialist nations left their former possessions in shambles – hobbled by poor infrastructure, ethnic disputes, arbitrary borders and economic systems designed for the benefit of the colonial power, and not the denizens of the colony.

Nations like Senegal, Nigeria and Angola were abruptly cast off, left to fend for themselves like the infant boys Romulus and Remus in Roman mythology.

And like Romulus and Remus, these countries were then raised by wolves.



Demagogues like Nasser and Castro molded the newly independent states into the Non-Aligned Movement, and set them firmly on the path of left-wing kleptocracy, authoritarian paranoia, and hatred for the US and its allies, notably Israel. This bloc became the “automatic majority” in the UN General Assembly – nations that, in the immortal words of Abba Eban, would pass a resolution “declaring that the Earth was flat, and that Israel had flattened it” by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.

WITH SOUTH Sudan, the West has an opportunity to show that it has learned the lessons of over-hasty decolonization.

At a time of debt crisis in the EU and wrangling over the debt ceiling in the US, it will not be easy to dedicate millions of dollars to feeding the starving children of South Sudan. But if the developed world is serious about bridging the massive equality gaps that plague our planet, now is the time to do so.

Israel has a critical role to play. Both Israel and South Sudan earned their sovereignty only after traumatizing and hard-fought wars of independence. And both nations are saddled with question marks over their borders, as South Sudan prepares for a drawn-out struggle with its former Northern overlord over the provinces of Abyei and South Kordofan.

South Sudan will need a modern, professional military to defend itself against the bloodthirsty dictator and alleged war criminal in Khartoum, and Israel can certainly help in that regard. But more importantly, the Jewish state can also nurture democracy and sustainable development.

In recent years, Israel has become home to approximately 15,000 refugees from East Africa, although exact figures are difficult to determine. About 2,000 are said to be from South Sudan. As Israeli politicians from across the spectrum hailed South Sudanese independence, Interior Minister Eli Yishai of Shas was quick to propose the repatriation of these migrants, who are seen in some quarters as an economic and demographic boondoggle.

YISHAI’S APPROACH is foolish and wrong-headed, especially since most of the refugees have no desire to return immediately. Rather than shipping the South Sudanese asylum seekers back to their newly sovereign homeland, Israel and international Jewish organizations should team up to provide them with the best education Israel has to offer. After a few years at Israeli universities in fields such as agriculture, politics, medicine and communications, these former refugees can then return to South Sudan and use their newfound skills to build the country.

Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East, can help breed the political class that will make South Sudan the only true democracy in East Africa.

Farming techniques that help grow fish in Israel’s Hula Marshes can help raise fish in the Sudd, the giant marsh that dominates South Sudan.

Israel’s extremely advanced solarpanel technology can be easily transplanted to South Sudan, one of the sunniest nations on Earth.

The massive benefits to South Sudan are clear. The world’s newest nation will receive tangible and desperately needed help from Israel in the form of cash, technology and even human capital. Who better to help the South Sudanese “start up” their nation than the Middle Eastern state famously dubbed the “Start-up Nation”? In its own small way, South Sudan can also begin to reward Israel’s massive investment in its future. At some point in September, the UN will hold its muchanticipated vote on a unilateral Palestinian bid for independence, in direct violation of the 1996 Oslo Accords.

If the UN’s newest member bucked the Third World trend and voted against the Palestinian bid, or even abstained, the symbolic boost to Israel and its allies would be immense.

To be sure, the motion would still pass by a large margin in the General Assembly, and would still likely be vetoed by the Americans at the Security Council.

But this gambit by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was never about attaining real independence, because even he knows that fine words and meaningless UN resolutions will not give his people a state. Rather, the Palestinian campaign is all about empty rhetoric and advancing the goal of delegitimizing the Jewish state. A fiery, impassioned speech by the South Sudanese delegate decrying Arab duplicity and expressing solidarity with Israel would work wonders to take the wind out of anti- Zionist sails.

Befitting their status as a newborn nation, South Sudanese leaders will find themselves with a host of foreign-policy decisions that require urgent attention.

For this reason, it is essential that Western nations act quickly to prop up this new African state, and do their part to expunge the sins of mismanaged decolonization from their collective conscience.

Israel, too, needs to approach South Sudan immediately, before the Arab League can beguile its politicians with bribes and false promises of aid. The events of the past weeks represent a critical foreign-policy opportunity for the West, for Israel and for South Sudan.

From Juba to Jerusalem, let freedom ring!

The writer is a student at the University of Toronto specializing in International Relations and Near and Middle Eastern Studies.

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