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South African government action on Palestine is overdue

February 2, 2016 at 4:55 pm

For how long will the South African government remain a bystander while Israel keeps colonizing ever more land in Palestine? This is a question asked not only by Palestinian victims of Israel’s land grab policies, but also by local solidarity activists.

The argument made in favour of more effective action is informed by the support shown for Palestine by the ruling party, the African National Congress. The rationale used is that while the ANC has adopted a number of significant resolutions backing Palestine, the same cannot be said of the government.

This disconnect between the party and the state is glaring. It suggests that the divide reflects rhetoric on the one hand and indecisiveness on the other. While such procrastination continues, Palestine’s hope of securing any of its legitimate rights keep fading away.

More importantly, the conviction displayed by Palestinians, especially since the dawn of democracy in South Africa, has always been simple: a free South Africa will accelerate their freedom. Didn’t the late Nelson Mandela imply as much? The government’s lack of action has severely dented that optimism.

Who’s to blame for this? The current Zuma administration, or were the seeds of inaction planted during the Thabo Mbeki presidency? Both may argue — correctly — that as leaders of the ANC, their commitment towards the Palestinian struggle cannot be questioned. Both will also maintain that the historic ties between the liberation movements in South Africa and Palestine have a solid, unshakeable foundation. Yet, to date, active support for Palestine has been confined to words recorded in brilliant resolutions.

Admittedly, the Zuma administration has had the courage to host a senior Hamas delegation led by Khaled Meshaal. That it happened at a crunch time when South Africa was and is still reeling from tough economic challenges, is reflective of the boldness of the decision. Mbeki, of course, had similar opportunities but presumably buckled under pressure. It’s a matter that he may reflect upon in forthcoming letters in order to clarify what happened.

Nevertheless, South Africa’s ties with Israel, including diplomatic, cultural, trade and military links, haven’t faltered despite the strong stance adopted by the ANC against them. This is what concerns Palestinians, who are at the receiving end of Israel’s savage repression: there is no visible and tangible action to sanction Israel for its brutal military occupation.

It’s all very well to have special emissaries who are deployed to engage with key players on both sides of the Palestine-Israel divide, but if such engagements lack in bite they will be futile, as is evident in America’s role. Five-star hotels, great food and photo opportunities will be the sum total of any gains made by the emissaries.

Furthermore, the overriding factor which is usually ignored is the fact that the “conflict” is falsely presented as being between two equal warring factions. Many countries have fallen for this Israeli propaganda. Indeed, even the UN approaches the “conflict” from this faulty perspective. It’s a narrative that misleads and misrepresents and thus keeps ending in a cul-de-sac, without any advantage for the victims of the Israeli occupation, siege and apartheid.

The two-state “solution” is shambolic; Israel’s land grab beyond the 1949 “Green (Armistice) Line” and large scale settlement construction has effectively nullified this option. The crippling siege of Gaza remains relentless and is compounded painfully by Israel’s coup partner, Egypt. Detention without trial is the order of the day. Men, women and children languish in Israeli jails. Military Checkpoints restrict freedom of movement and deny access to Muslim and Christian religious sites; the traditional birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem, for example, is under occupation and surrounded by a monstrous “security” wall.

Israel will continue to plunder and colonise Palestine unless it knows that to do so will come at a huge cost. It is this cost that countries such as South Africa have failed to factor into their foreign policies. Its absence keeps emboldening the right-wing Netanyahu regime, which believes that countries such as South Africa lack the guts and determination to take any drastic action against Israel, thus allowing it to act with impunity.

If the South African government is serious about giving effect to ANC resolutions, President Jacob Zuma will have to say, “Umshini Wami” — “Bring my machine gun” — in the form of sanctions, at the very least.

Iqbal Jassat is an Executive Member of the Media Review Network, Johannesburg.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.