Picture: Gertrude Makhafola/ANA
Johannesburg - The decision taken by the ANC national conference to immediately and unconditionally downgrade the South African embassy in Israel has sent the strongest message yet from the governing party on its concern over Israel’s actions in the occupied territories.

The resolution noted “the continued illegal occupation of Palestine and East Jerusalem - now in its 50th year - as well as Israel’s continued violation of international law and successive UN resolutions".

The ANC's national policy conference in July recommended a downgrade or shutdown of South Africa’s diplomatic relations with Israel, but a decision could only be taken by the party’s collective at the national conference.

Members of the national executive committee said the decision of the international relations committee was unanimous and adopted by the plenary, with the ANC issuing the statement.

“To give our practical expression of support to the oppressed people of Palestine, the ANC has unanimously resolved to direct the government to immediately and unconditionally downgrade the South African embassy in Israel to a liaison office.”

Nelson Kgwete of the Department of International Relations and Co-operation told The Star: “We have never had to deal with such a situation before, so it is difficult to put timelines on the process.

"This is a political decision and we will now be guided by Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane on the way forward.”

Mohamed Dangor, political adviser on the Middle East to Nkoana-Mashabane, has characterised the decision by the ANC as symbolic, but said the important issue lies in its implementation and the way forward. “This is a clear indication that Israel now needs to come to its senses to create a peaceful resolution to the problem.”

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the SA Zionist Federation issued a strong condemnation of the ANC’s decision, saying: “We question the motives behind this discriminatory decision that would effectively prevent South Africa from playing any mediatory role in bringing about peace or dialogue between Israel and Palestine.

"This downgrade will do nothing for the Palestinian people, and have a detrimental effect on South Africans. We further question the motives of organisations and individuals who have managed to 'capture' the ANC’s international relations agenda, including the BDS.”

South African Jews for a Free Palestine welcomed the ANC's decision, saying: “The move by the ANC actively applies pressure on Israel’s government to end its violations of international law. As members of the Jewish community, we believe that this is one of the most practical things that South Africa can do to contribute towards a just peace in Israel-Palestine.”

BDS SA also welcomed the decision, saying: “This is a huge step in the right direction and a massive gain for the global boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. The ANC - Africa’s oldest liberation movement which benefited from boycotts and sanctions against apartheid South Africa - has provided direction and we look forward to others following suit.”

In its special resolutions, the ANC’s national conference also condemned the decision by the US administration to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and affirmed the position that East Jerusalem is the recognised capital of the future State of Palestine.

One of the senior members of the ANC’s international relations committee told The Star: “We don’t see any prospect of peace, as there are no real negotiations taking place. There is no real possibility of South Africa intervening in the conflict.”