It was quite disappointing to see the Cabinet’s decision to withdraw its staff from the South African embassy in Israel on the grounds that Israel is committing “genocide” in the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.
This is so because as a result South Africa will never be in a position to broker peace between Israel and Hamas. Pretoria continues to lean towards its cold-war era associates at the expense of its current-day foreign policy prospects.
It is impossible to imagine the difficulties that South Africans will go through without an embassy in Israel. What it amounts to is the South African government abandoning its citizens in Israel. This simply means that South Africans who are tourists, students or employees in Israel will be left on their own by their own government to which they contribute as taxpayers.
The government has shown that they are not interested in brokering peace and stability in this decades-long political and military impasse. The Israel-Palestine question is complicated and multifaceted, influenced by factors such as religion, politics, economic and social strata. This means that the conflict cannot be addressed overnight as the ANC would like to believe.
Pretoria should have seized this moment to use its diplomatic influence to play a mediatory role between Israel and Palestine/Hamas with a view to establish an enduring political solution to end the turmoil.
By removing themselves from the scene and blaming Israel for everything going wrong in that part of the world, the recent embarrassing decision by the Cabinet shows a lack of political willingness to address the Israel-Palestine question.
What is the logic or sense of withdrawing diplomats from Tel Aviv? Is their withdrawal promising to help bring about an end of this conflict? Rather, it offers no tangible solution to the people of Palestine, instead denying the very people they claim to care about a possibility to witness peace and tolerance. Ultimately, the guns will have to be put aside and people from Israel and Palestine will have to live together either in one country or side-by-side as neighbouring countries.
As South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) national director Wendy Kahn points out: “South Africa’s standing and the international relations principle is that we always engage. In the past when there has been a dispute, an ambassador would be recalled for consultation. But to bring back all the diplomats and leave South African citizens open at a time like this is concerning.”
As reported in the local media a few weeks ago, two South African citizens were among those killed in the October 7 massacres by Hamas against Israel and another citizen was one of the more than 240 hostages seized by Hamas on that occasion.
However, our government has said nothing regarding any of this, even though there were supposed to have been diplomatic efforts to trace every affected family and see what kind of support could be offered. We have been seeing French, UK and US efforts to release their citizens, who are part of many civilians being held hostage by Hamas terrorists.
These progressive countries have engaged both Israel and Palestine to safeguard their countries’ interests, but South Africa is not doing the same because they just do not care about their own.
By taking a decision to withdraw with the intention of isolating Israel, South Africa knows very well that they continue to risk their escalating diplomatic relations with the US and other countries who are close to Israel.
This decision presents a lot of problems for the South African economy which is not doing well at present.
Kenneth Mokgatlhe is an independent writer and political analyst based in the North West Province.