SA’s hostility towards Israel is counterproductive

Phumlani M. Majozi says it is a foreign policy blunder to pick a side in such a long running conflict

South Africa’s hostility towards Israel is counterproductive

Over the past two years, South Africa’s policy on the Israel-Palestine conflict has been astounding. The country took extreme, ill-thought positions that, by almost every measure, make zero contribution on the global efforts to find a peaceful resolution between Israel and Palestine.

In 2017, the governing African National Congress (ANC) resolved to shun Israel. As part of this policy, the party proposed that South Africa’s embassy, based in Tel Aviv, be downgraded into a liaison office. This radical, controversial decision came after the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Also chief amongst the reasons for the proposed downgrade, is what the ANC calls the continuing violation of Palestinians’ rights and the Israeli government's failure to enter negotiations for a two-state solution.

Those familiar with the Israeli-Palestine conflict are cognizant of the reality that the ANC’s decision really achieves nothing in a conflict that has become complicated over the past decades.

For South Africa to shamelessly pick a side in such a decades-long, complex conflict is a foreign policy blunder. As Mzoxolo Mpolase, correctly wrote not long ago; with this decision to downgrade South Africa’s embassy in Israel, we’ve cemented our irrelevance on the global stage.

We cannot, and must not, only blame Israel for the fact that negotiations with the Palestinians stalled over the past four years. Palestinians deserve to be blamed too – for their failure to create a political, legitimate, functional structure that is capable of constructively engaging Israel.

The engagements can only be constructive if the Palestinian political elements not only cease firing rockets into Israel, but also recognize Israel’s right to exist in that region. This will need to be expressed not only in words, but also in action.

What has always struck me – is that in biased countries like South Africa and many others that are anti-Israel – there exist a tendency to overlook Palestine’s failures on key fundamentals that could help speed up the negotiation process – and eventually – arrive at a peaceful resolution with Israel.

Who is the leader of the people of Palestine? Because Mahmoud Abbas looks very weak. If a deal were to be reached tomorrow with Israel, would Abbas be able to implement the deal back home in Palestine?

Amongst the ruling political class from Hamas to Fatah, who exactly represents the people of Palestine? Why is this ruling class in conflict with itself on some issues relating to the negotiations with Israel and the future of Palestine?

These questions complicate the whole process and make it, at least in my view, extremely difficult for meaningful negotiations that will result in a peaceful two-state solution.

We have to tell this truth – because if we keep quiet – then we are not doing that region justice – especially the people of Palestine.

I strongly sympathize with the Palestinians – and I believe we all must – because they deserve to have their own, recognized country. But at this point, I deeply believe, their leaders are playing a huge, perhaps the biggest role in letting them down. South Africa’s government led by the ANC must face up to this truth. It must face up to it not only by rhetoric, but also by action.

We have to work with both Palestinians and Israelis towards achieving peace in that region. Our relentless efforts to project Israel as the most evil in this political situation is carelessness and short-sighted. Israel is not pure; nor is Palestine. Both countries have their faults on the matter.

Since I came back from Israel and Palestine last December – I have also been critical of Israel’s persistence on the building of settlements in West Bank. I concur with those who, for years, have argued Israel must pause on the settlements till a peaceful resolution is found between the two countries. To an extent, Israel’s expansion of settlements makes the road towards peace bumpy.

South Africa is one of a few countries that have decided to limit their engagement with Israel. I think this is a missed opportunity. Because Israel is an advanced and sophisticated country – there are many areas where South Africa and Israel could collaborate for mutual benefits.

Given this reality I have outlined above, South Africa’s actions on this intricate geopolitical matter – along with other nations around the world – must focus on getting these countries back on the negotiating table to find a peaceful resolution to their conflict. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. They have sat on the negotiating table before – they can do it again.

One way we could add value, is to encourage civil organizations within the two countries to work with each other towards peace; and also encourage them to peacefully pressure their leaders to reignite the talks. We have a very active civil society – and other nations can learn a great deal from us.

We need to be amongst the facilitators of the process that will get Israel and Palestine back to the negotiating table. Picking sides, boycotting Israel, refusing to deal with it, is counterproductive.

Phumlani M. Majozi is a political and foreign analyst, a senior fellow at AfricanLiberty.org, radio talk show host, and non-executive director at Free Market Foundation South Africa. Views expressed here are his own; they have nothing to do with the Free Market Foundation South Africa. Follow him on Twitter: @PhumlaniMMajozi.