Will South Africa revise its foreign policy in solidarity with Palestine and opposition to apartheid Israel?

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South African Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Ebrahim Ebrahim’s visit to Gaza will undoubtedly be characterized with the usual denunciations of Israeli policies. That this is to be expected is in line with foreign policy imperatives in a post-apartheid era, though many would argue that such pronouncements –” necessary as they are –” fall short of action.

Since the period of the apartheid regime’s close alliance with Israel witnessed overt and covert collaboration in the perpetration of some of the most gruesome oppression in both pariah states, it remains an unfulfilled yearning of many pro-Palestinian activists to have these links severed, which unfortunately continue to this day.

Though the argument for democratic South Africa to ditch ties with Israel is also made by leading political figures from the country’s major labour movement COSATU, it remains an embarrassing fact that the ruling African National Congress keeps finding dubious reasons to justify the presence of an Israeli mission in Pretoria.

Does it reflect a dire lack of transformation in foreign policy?

Or worse, does it reflect a betrayal of solidarity with Palestine? Or is it a combination of both?

Is it not the case that historic ties with the Palestinian freedom struggle ought to be the principal guide in determining the basis for any engagement with a colonial entity that was equally responsible in sustaining the oppression and denial of fundamental human rights of the majority during apartheid?

The fact is that despite South Africa now in her sixteenth year into democracy, Palestinian vision of a free, single, independent democratic state remains an illusion.

If SA’s Cabinet under President Zuma and policy-makers within the ministry of International Relations and its middle-east desk have any regard for the insightful analysis that regularly emanates from key thinkers and academics as specialist “Palestine/Israel watchers”, they ought to have no difficulty in making the desired strategic shift.

In a recent talk delivered by Professor John Mearsheimer in Washington –” on the same day that Ebrahim was meeting with Hamas leaders in the Gaza –” the renowned author of

The Tragedy of Great Power Politics and The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy [with Stephen M. Walt] declared that a Greater Israel between the Jordan and the Mediterranean already exists!

“It is not going to be a democratic bi-national state, at least in the near future. An overwhelming majority of Israel’s Jews have no interest in living in a state that would be dominated by the Palestinians. And that includes young Israeli Jews, many of whom hold clearly racist views toward the Palestinians in their midst….”.

It does remind South Africans of die-hard Afrikaners who shared such racist attitudes and resisted change. Indeed such abhorrence for a democratic dispensation with equality for all led to many of them accusing FW de Klerk of being a “verraier” or betrayer of Afrikaner supremacy!

Interestingly, Mearsheimer’s talk carried the sub-theme of “Righteous Jews vs. the New Afrikaners”.

“Israelis and their American supporters invariably bristle at the comparison to white rule in South Africa, but that is their future if they create a Greater Israel while denying full political rights to an Arab population that will soon outnumber the Jewish population in the entirety of the land”, he said.

He also warned that despite ethnic cleansing being a murderous strategy that would do enormous damage to Israel’s moral fabric, its relationship with Jews in the Diaspora and to its international standing, “Nevertheless, there is reason to worry that Israelis might adopt this solution as the demographic balance shifts against them and they fear for the survival of the Jewish state”.

I am certain that Ebrahim’s visit will alert him to the impending danger posed by Israel’s willingness to employ such a horrific strategy. Mearsheimer confirms the fact that many Israelis hold racist views of Palestinians. He said that public opinion polls and everyday discourse and the evidence of Gaza massacres “makes clear that they have few qualms about killing Palestinian civilians”.

An immediate question for South Africa is whether it will be willing to re-assess and drastically re-align its solidarity as an active participant rather than the current inconsequential role as a neutral member of the international community watching the physical liquidation of the Palestinian cause from the sidelines?

Ehud Olmert, who was Netanyahu’s predecessor, said in late November 2007 that if “the two-state solution collapses,” Israel will “face a South-African-style struggle.” Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is now Israel’s defense minister has been equally emphatic: “If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”

Prior to his departure, Ebrahim Ebrahim reiterated the South African position in relation to the current state of Israeli-Palestinian affairs, which was not any different from the Mbeki government and which yielded zero results.

Speaking in SA’s parliament last month, he said that the government would exert efforts to see a “just peace” for Palestinians and should include a total freeze on Israeli settlement building; the end of the blockade on Gaza; the right of return for Palestinian refugees; East Jerusalem as the capital for Palestinians; and the right for Palestinians to control their own natural resources.

Just as it was impossible for the international community –” barring rogue states such as Israel –” to defend apartheid, so too should it be impossible for a democratic country such as South Africa to justify relations with apartheid Israel.

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