South Africa could help reshape and redefine the Middle East
By Kenneth Mokgatlhe
Egypt, Washington, the UN and other stakeholders played an important part in bringing about the recent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, a conflict that lasted for 11 days. The truce that was welcomed last Friday was as a result of hardworking advocates for peace from around the world that regrettably did not include from South Africa.
Despite our impressive credentials at reconciliation, my country South Africa continues to miss opportunity after opportunity for helping to bring about peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict and much of the embattled Middle East region.
The Jewish state is frequently labelled “apartheid Israel” by Its detractors who are intentionally spreading disinformation. First and foremost, apartheid was a statutory system of segregation and discrimination on grounds of race used in South Africa before 1994, where our black majority were discriminated against on every level – social, economic and political.
I am one of few fortunate young South Africans who has visited Israel in the quest for searching for the truth. I visited its parliament, where Arabs sit as members representing their community or Arab constituency. They have the right to fight for the needs of their people and they do. This was never the case in apartheid South Africa and whatever form of racism there might be in Israel, it is not what we had in South Africa – it is not apartheid and is an afront to those who suffered under apartheid to suggest any similarity.
It’s a lie that needs to be exposed!
While visiting the city of Ramallah – the administrative capital of the Palestinian National Authority – I engaged with Palestinians and heard their complaint relating to the land and its allocation and how this adversely affect livelihoods. While this is a serious issue, and needs to be addressed seriously, the BDS movement in South Africa presents such a skewered narrative of the situation to fit with its agenda which is:
not to establish a Palestinian a state but to do away with the Jewish state. Read their statements – it’s there in black and white clear as daylight.
Those understanding the complexities of the Israel-Palestine conflict have been calling for a “Two-state solution” – the most practical solution. However attractive it might be in some circles, annihilating Israel is not an option and even for the more nuanced antisemites, Israel cannot be airbrushed away into oblivion. It has a total population today of some 9 million, nearly double the population of Ireland and nearly 2/3 the population of our neighbour, Zimbabwe.
Despite the unrelenting onslaught against Israel through rockets like last week and on the other hand, open-ended vitriol from the UN, NGOs, diplomats, and a biased international media, Israel has not only survived against the odds but outreached to the Arab and Muslim worlds finding acceptance in a region that was once implacably hostile to its very existance.
Apart from Egypt and Jordan that entered into peace agreements with Israel many years ago, we now see Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco normalizing their relations with the Jewish state, much of it under the aegis of Washington.
South Africa, with its political history could also contribute to helping reshape, reimagine and redefine the politics in the Middle East especially with regard to the recent tensions that violently erupted between Hamas and Israel. South Africa once proved to the world its talent in conflict resolution and reconciliation and showed an alternative to violence.
Last week was tense as the world was glued to their televisions and media platforms. While there were those calling for a ceasefire, too many were ready to trip over each other to brand Israel as the aggressor. They showed scant regard for the facts that Hamas began be firing rockets at Israel’s capital followed by thousands over the next 11 days all aimed at Israel’s civilian population. However displeased some may be with a court order relating to an eviction notice in east Jerusalem does not give the right to a foreign political entity – Gaza – the right to express its opinion on the issue by launching rockets at Israel’s civilian population across the country!
There was no need for this divisive issue to be ‘arbitrated’ through violence which s exactly what Hamas wanted and which South Africa – who should know better – supported. In so doing, South Africa failed to play the necessary role of an “honest broker”, which it could have done with its proven credentials.
South Africa is truly out of step here with US President Joe Biden publicly acknowledging Israel’s right to defend itself and affirming Hamas as a terrorist organsation. Hamas is hell-bent in word and deed on the total removal of Israel and its Jewish population. You only have to read the frightening wording in the Hamas’ charter!
The US is joined by the European Union, and others who have identified Hamas as a terror group. It is only South Africa that heaps praise on this organisation and supports its murderous actions.
South Africa’s position constrains it from it effectively tackling the issue. There has been an occupation of the West Bank including east Jerusalem which many Israelis are not comfortable with. In his book titled Drawing Fire, internationally respected South African journalist, now living in Israel, Benjamin Pogrund wrote: “The settlers have transformed Israel; they have influence in the inner core of government, and they shape profound policy decisions for the future. Many, many millions of Shekels are devoted to them in budgets, both openly and secretly. Their existence has been made possible by military occupation”.
This issue could be pursued through dialogue but with the political divisions between Ramallah and Gaza – between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, it is difficult for the Palestinians to have legitimate representatives to effectively pursue their cause. There needs to be one, not multiple leaderships to engage with Israel. This needs to be internally resolved within the Palestinian polity, an issue that South Africa could so easy have offered advice from its own experience of overcoming multi-ethnic diversity.
The world needs to support pragmatic policies that acknowledges Israel has a right to exist alongside an independent Palestine. To this end, South Africa could take a more active role in trying to resolving the Israeli-Palestine conflict through constructive counsel rather than undermining its potential role as a “peacemaker” by being patently one-sided by issuing government statements solely critical of Israel.
Nothing is achieved by this except devaluing South Africa’s judgement, its image and undermining its potential for conflict resolution and reconciliation.
South Africa has failed the test so far; will it change course?
About the writer:
Kenneth Mokgatlhe is an independent writer and political critic.
From Zeerust, North West Province, South Africa.
078 9754 182
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