South Africa and its long-time ally, the United States of America find themselves in starkly opposing, warring camps with regards to the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict.
South Africa, a leading economic and diplomatic powerhouse on the African continent has taken the extraordinary step of prosecuting Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) - the highest legal body of the United Nations.
South Africa’s case is before the international court for two days, Thursday and Friday, at the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands.
The US is vocally on Israel’s side, while Pretoria stands with Palestine, accusing Israel of subjecting Palestinians in Gaza to genocidal acts.
Ahead of the ICJ sitting, the US has rubbished South Africa's case against Israel.
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby earlier this week said the US considers South Africa’s case to be “meritless, counter-productive and completely without any basis in fact whatsoever”.
In an interview with IOL, renowned academic Dr Gideon Chitanga, a research associate at the African Centre for the Study of the United States at Wits University, said being in opposing warring camps on the Israel-Palestine conflict adds another dent to the turbulent South Africa-United States relations in the meantime.
“These differences will likely dent US - South Africa relations for the meantime. The Biden administration will seek common ground with South Africa, probably the most democratic state in Africa, and one of the biggest economies in the continent, in line with their back into Africa policy,” said Chitanga.
While South Africa’s case is primarily against Israel, Chitanga said the US’ policies, particularly the massive support for Israel, are also on trial.
“The ICJ case represents moral and international prosecution of Israel first, but also Western/United States policies, particularly their blank check support for Israel,” he said.
“Depending on how much international traction the case will draw, and if the case succeeds at the ICJ, Israel would stand accused and judged to have committed genocide, and the US and all its supporters as accomplices, reinforcing perceptions of Western double standards, and violence to advance their interests.”
Chitanga highlighted that overall, South Africa-United States relations “look strong”, and the reality is that both sides have interest in sustaining constructive diplomatic engagement.
“Despite many tests in terms of differences in approaches to key multilateral issues, SA will continue to participate in AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act), hosted the AGOA review meetings, and the United States is the second biggest bilateral trading partner with South Africa,” said Chitanga.
He highlighted that trade between South Africa and the US stands at $25.5 billion.
South Africa is a major player in continental and multilateral diplomacy.
On Thursday, the International Court of Justice sitting at Peace Palace heard from South Africa’s legal team. Among key members of the legal team, the ICJ heard from Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC, who addressed the matter of Israel’s genocidal intent.