A sign on a bridge before the opening in Jerusalem on Sunday of the US Embassy in contested Jerusalem. Picture: Ariel Schalit/AP/African News Agency
President Cyril Ramaphosa, on behalf of the ANC-led government, has expressed concern about the US government's unilateral decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

More commonly known as the “Iran deal” and negotiated by the UN Security Council together with Germany and the EU, it sought to re-integrate Iran into the international community as an equal partner while seeking to bring stability to the Middle East.

At its 54th National Conference last year, the ANC welcomed the deal that lifted the sanctions against Iran. The ANC encouraged the government to do all it could to ensure that Iran was reintegrated into the family of nations. As Ramaphosa stated, the Iran Deal was a victory for multilateralism.

However, while the situation in Iran, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain must receive our attention, we must not forget the plight of the Palestinian people. There can be no true peace and stability in the Middle East unless we resolve the question of the establishment of a free and independent state of Palestine, the status of Jerusalem and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. Only once we have addressed these will the entire region be on the road to stability and peace.

We might suggest that the focus on the Iran Deal, the discussion around it and the sidelining of the Palestinian question become important today as we approach the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel and the displacement, dispossession and dispersal of the Palestinian people, known as the Nakba, which means “catastrophe” or “disaster”.

As some attempt to take our attention away from the quest for an independent Palestine and the implementation of the right of all Palestinians to return to their homeland, the international cries for justice for Palestinian brothers and sisters must reverberate through the capitals and cities of the world.

In 1948, in the aftermath of the Palestinian war and the declaration of the State of Israel, nearly 1million Palestinians were expelled, deported or fled the Palestinian territory.

Today, they and their descendants in neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, together with those living in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel number nearly 6million. This excludes Palestinians in other parts of the world.

As in 1948, the destruction of Palestinian towns, villages, homes, businesses and farms, among other properties, by Israelis continues. Statehood continues to be denied to a people who have suffered and continue to suffer grievously at the hands of the apartheid state of Israel. Today, despite numerous UN Security Council Resolutions, far more outnumbering those against Iran, the Israeli regime continues the occupation of the Palestinian Territories and perpetrates gross human rights violations against Palestinians.

May 15, Nakba Day, also known as Palestine Day, is a symbol of international solidarity. Throughout the past 70 years, various forms of commemoration have taken place inside Israel, the Occupied Territories, the Arab world as well as in the international community. It is a day on which the international community is reminded that there will be no peace in the Middle East, including that of Iran, unless we see the establishment of a free and independent state of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and the guaranteed rights of all Palestinian refugees to return.

This year, when we commemorate the centenary birthdays of Albertina Sisulu and Nelson Mandela, we might remind ourselves of the fact that international solidarity was one of the cornerstones of our fight against apartheid. Together with internal mobilisation and mass resistance as well as the armed Struggle, the international campaign was pivotal in isolating the apartheid regime.

The liberation movement could not afford to allow the world to forget about the Struggle to free South Africa. As the ANC, in particular, we had to ensure that we kept apartheid South Africa and the atrocities perpetrated against our people high on the agenda.

Sisulu played no small part in the campaign of international solidarity, working in the trenches inside and outside the country, garnering support and funding for campaigns such as the eventual establishment of the United Democratic Front. At the same time, the imprisoned Mandela became the face of our international campaigns with events such as the “Free Mandela” concerts becoming symbolic of the demand for the release of all political prisoners.

It is for this reason, understanding the importance of international solidarity, that the ANC has boldly adopted resolutions in support of the struggle of the Palestinian people. The ANC condemns the extraordinary, unprecedented and provocative decision by the US to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy there.

As a consequence of this action, yet believing in engaging with the Israelis, the ANC resolved that our government must unconditionally downgrade the South African Embassy, based in Tel Aviv, to a liaison office.

In the light of this development pronounced by the US, our movement called on Palestinians to review the viability of the two-state solution.

The ANC has found it necessary to encourage interaction with Palestinian social bodies, especially those working for peace and women’s groups, to solidify this international solidarity. Importantly too, the ANC has called for talks and unity among the Palestinians to garner a sustainable and lasting peace.

Civil society, in particular, must mobilise for the international community to pressure Israel into negotiating a just settlement for Palestine based on UN resolutions. If international pressure can be placed on Iran, then why can’t pressure be placed on Israel?

We counted on the support and solidarity of our international friends. We therefore have an obligation towards those who continue to fight for their own freedom.

Jessie Duarte is the deputy secretary-general of the ANC.