As pressure continues to mount on Israel to stop its indiscriminate attacks in Gaza, its ally US President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Thursday night to punish Jewish settlers who attack Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
Here at home, international relations experts backed International Relations and Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor’s call that Global South countries should try to provide humanitarian support to the UN Relief and Works Agency in Palestine.
Biden's order, announced almost a week after the International Court of Justice directed Israel to take all measures to prevent genocidal acts, establishes a system for imposing financial sanctions and visa restrictions against individuals found to have attacked or intimidated Palestinians or seized their property, said White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan in a statement.
“Today’s actions seek to promote peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” he said.
UN figures show that daily settler attacks have more than doubled in the nearly four months since the Hamas attack and Israel's ensuing assault on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
The order freezes any US assets of those targeted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.
The US State Department on Thursday also planned to announce the first four individuals hit by the order, two senior Biden administration officials told reporters.
Biden and other senior US officials have warned repeatedly that Israel must act to stop violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank.
“These actions pose a grave threat to peace, security, stability in the West Bank, Israel and the Middle East region, and they also obstruct the realisation of ultimately an independent Palestinian state existing side by side with the state of Israel,” one of the senior officials said.
Biden has raised the issue directly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the official said, as Biden seeks a path to a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians once the Gaza conflict ends.
The West Bank, among the territories where Palestinians seek statehood along with Gaza, has experienced a surge of violence in recent months amid expanding Jewish settlements and a nearly decade-old impasse in US-sponsored peacemaking.
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, head of the far-right pro-settlement party Religious Zionism, was defiant in a statement on the Biden order: “The ‘settler violence’ campaign is an anti-Semitic lie that enemies of Israel disseminate with the goal of smearing the pioneering settlers and settlement enterprise, and to harm them and thus smear the entire State of Israel,” Smotrich said.
In December, the US began imposing visa bans on people involved in violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Since the 1967 Middle East war, Israel has occupied the West Bank of the Jordan River, which Palestinians want as the core of an independent state. It has built Jewish settlements there that most countries deem illegal. Israel disputes this and cites historical and biblical ties to the land.
Meanwhile, Pandor’s call on the developing countries for humanitarian support in Palestine comes after several wealthy countries this week suspended their funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency.
Countries like the US, UK, Canada and Germany paused funding to the aid agency, after the Israeli government made allegations that about a dozen of the agency’s staff were involved in the October Hamas attack that killed about 1 200 people in Israel.
Pandor said South Africa should rally states to fund the much-needed aid.
“We should be speaking to the Gulf States, we should speak to the other African countries that have the ability to contribute.
“We should look to our own resources, we should support the agency to provide humanitarian aid.
“We can’t leave things as they are and whatever we are able to provide, we should make it available.”
International relations expert Dr Chidochashe Nyere of the University of Johannesburg said it was better if aid was co-ordinated from the Global South.
“The Global North tends to fund many of the aid programmes and there is undue pressure and asymmetrical agendas that come with this funding. Most of the issues with global aid is that they are stalled deliberately by Western countries when their own agenda is affected.”
Nyere said the stalling of aid in Palestine was related to the loggerheads over who was being supported in the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Another expert, Dr Noluthando Phungula of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said South Africa had hoped that the ICJ would order a ceasefire and while it did not do this, it had called for provisional measures and action from Israel.
“This suggests that the ICJ notes that the situation in Gaza is catastrophic. However, Israel is likely to ignore the ruling made by the ICJ completely and would unfortunately not be the first state to do so.”