Pandor’s approach to Israel increasingly muddled
Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Dr Naledi Pandor has delivered an array of promises on Israel and Gaza, many of them in contradiction with each other, indicating her confused foreign policy towards the Middle East.
She promised to approach the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to have Israel declared an apartheid state and said that “South Africa cannot have normal relations with Israel as long as the latter is unwilling sincerely to negotiate a peace plan without preconditions with Palestine.”
At the same time, she said, “South Africa will need to take a well-considered approach to closing the Israeli embassy in Pretoria. Our government will need to factor in whether such an action may impact negatively on South Africa’s ability to maintain a diplomatic presence in Palestine.” She followed this up with “the demands for the closure of the Israeli Embassy in Pretoria have merit”.
After South Africa’s continuous condemnation of Israel and closure of its embassy there, she believes South Africa still has a role to play in mediating the conflict, saying, “South Africa has called on the international community to seek a solution that facilitates equality and security for all people who have the right to live in the territories of Palestine and Israel before more innocent lives are lost. To this end, South Africa is considering the appointment of a special envoy to engage all role players within the region and beyond, to share our lived experience in negotiation, mediation, and conflict resolution, as well as post-conflict reconstruction and development.”
Though she managed to condemn Hamas, she had to condemn Israel in the same sentence, saying, “South Africa condemned the attacks on civilians by Hamas and further stated that these actions should be investigated for war crimes,” adding that the response by Israel was unlawful. “Similarly, in its attacks on and kidnapping of innocent civilians, Hamas leadership should also be investigated for breaching international law.”
Pandor was speaking in response to parliamentary questions from Free State Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Member of Parliament (MP) Moletsane Simon Moletsane and Gauteng EFF MP Kenny Motsamai. Moletsane asked Pandor, “What support has been provided to the people of Palestine and their campaign that seeks to take back their land from illegal occupation by Israel, which bombed Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza?”
Instead of explaining to Moletsane that Israel has a right to exist and that it didn’t bomb the Al Ahli Hospital, Pandor responded, “South Africa and Palestine are currently working on formulating practical strategies towards taking up the Palestinian cause to the ICC [International Criminal Court] and ICJ to declare Israel an apartheid state.
“South Africa intends to petition the ICJ directly to give advisory opinion on the legal consequences arising from the ongoing violation by Israel of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, from its prolonged occupation, settlement, and annexation of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967,” she said.
These comments, published on 26 November, came after a majority of South African legislators voted on 21 November in favour of a motion calling for the closure of the Israeli embassy in South Africa and the cutting of diplomatic ties until Israel agreed to a ceasefire in Gaza. The vote came a day after Israel’s foreign ministry recalled its ambassador to South Africa, Eli Belotsercovsky, back to Jerusalem “for consultation” following the “latest statements from South Africa”.
Pandor said South Africa’s decision to recall its diplomats from Israel was “rightful” and “is influenced by the need to assess its relationship with the country amid the rising civilian casualties from attacks by Israel on Gaza”.
Regarding the closure of the Israeli embassy in South Africa, she said, “South Africa will initiate steps to engage all relevant stakeholders to assess the approach to our diplomatic relations with Israel given the current dire situation in the region. We will await, too, the outcome of a parliamentary debate and possible vote on the matter, bearing in mind that we can act only when instructed by Cabinet as foreign affairs is the domain of the executive.”
“South Africa’s policy towards Israel has hitherto been consistent, with a clear pro-Palestinian line. It now appears muddled,” says local political analyst Steven Gruzd. “On the one hand, it wants to take Israel to the ICJ and the ICC for war crimes, and Parliament has voted to close the Israeli embassy in South Africa. On the other, the minister has acknowledged that severing diplomatic ties would restrict South African access to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, which would not be in its interest.
“We have seen this split between African National Congress MPs and the department of international relations and cooperation [Dirco] before – on the decision to downgrade the South African embassy in Tel Aviv,” says Gruzd. “The party pushed Dirco over several years for this decision to take effect. The government and party are sending mixed signals here.
“South Africa now has zero trust from Israel as a mediator. It’s an irrelevant irritant,” he says. “Its one-sidedness has scuppered any real meditation role. So if it happens [a special envoy to the Middle East], I don’t expect much to change. Perhaps South Africa can use its friendship with Hamas positively, but I’m highly sceptical. Israel won’t allow South Africa to have it both ways. Its hostility to Israel has all but disqualified it from a constructive role.”
South African Jewish Board of Deputies National Director Wendy Kahn says, “Those in charge of South Africa’s international relations policy are simply making it up as they go along. They want to eat their cake, and have it too. While Minister Naledi Pandor and the Dirco she presides over have spent the past eight weeks bashing Israel in the most vitriolic terms, describing it with such words as ‘genocide’, ‘concentration camps’, ‘ethnic cleansing’, and ‘Holocaust’, they are still under the apprehension that they can be an honest peace broker in the region.
“The South African government frequently seeks to position itself as the mediator and peace broker of the world,” says Kahn. “However, its unbridled antipathy towards the Jewish state, exacerbated during this war, when it couldn’t even bring itself to offer Israel condolence on its murdered civilians, has precluded it from playing any meaningful role in future peace efforts. It has been thoroughly discredited by its obvious bias and one-sided understanding of the conflict.
“Today, on the contrary, it’s being seen as a proxy for Hamas and Iran, to both of which it reached out in the early days of the conflict while at the same time ceaselessly excoriating Israel. Its feeble attempts to call for a two-state solution are negated by its failure to acknowledge the fundamental premises upon which it is built, namely that there has to be a mutual commitment to peaceful co-existence, and that each state requires secure borders.”