Today there should be no doubt that the United States of America stands isolated in the international community as it further endorses the apartheid state of Israel. As it supported the apartheid regime in South Africa and stood by the Nationalist government in the height of the fight against this crime against humanity, so too today it stands alone as moves its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The move comes as American global leadership fast loses traction and legitimacy in the international community. With the assistance of Donald Trump, the American people have shown that its role as a beacon for liberty, independence and sovereignty is simply a thing of the past. It was Congress, the representatives of the American people, after all, that passed the law some few years ago to give this recognition to Israel.
Americans, in the past, have always elected into high office leaders who, though tainted through bias, at least attempted to play a mediatory role between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Past presidents, though friendly with Israeli prime ministers, would have the courage to speak out and, if needs be, be honest about the brutal and irrational injustices committed by the Israelis.
In 2011, when France’s Nicholas Sarkozy called Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, a liar, the US president at the time, Barak Obama, answered almost in the affirmative saying merely that he had to deal with Netanyahu everyday. Four years later, in an interview with ‘The Huffington Post’, Obama outlined his disappointment in Netanyahu saying the Israeli prime minister was uncooperative and could not be trusted on whether a Palestinian state could be declared while he was the premier.
In 2004, then US president, George W. Bush, wrote to the then Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, reminding him that the United States ‘supports the establishment of a Palestinian state that is viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent…’. Bush went further and indicated to Sharon that the US would join the international community to foster democratic institutions and leaders that would strengthen those institutions.
In the aftermath of the historic Camp David Summit in 2000, facilitated by US president, Bill Clinton, in which Yasser Arafat led the Palestinian delegation and Ehud Barak was prime minister of Israel, Robert Malley, Clinton’s special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs, describes how Clinton became impatient with the Israeli prime minister. In an article published in the New York Review of Books, Malley recalls the ‘extraordinary moment’ when Clinton expressed his ‘accumulated frustrations’ at Barak. Clinton ‘chided’ the Israeli leader and Malley’s account changed the narrative which had up until then portrayed Arafat as the cause for the failure of the summit. The Israelis negotiated in bad faith, the Palestinians smelt a rat and the Americans could see this. Clinton had made know his sentiments to the Israelis.
One may continue to try and point out examples in which the Americans tried to portray themselves as honest brokers. For some presidents, who wanted to achieve a just and lasting peace, they knew that the Israelis were the obstacles to justice and peace but because of political and economic interests they remained silent and diplomatic. For years, the international community was witness to American hypocrisy as the US would propose and pass United Nations Security Council resolutions against other nations, demand international justice for war crimes and yet veto any action that were taken against the Israelis.
Unlike any other nation on earth, the Israelis have violated international law the most, while the Americans simply sought to defend them. Today they seem to be joining the Israelis in breaking this law. Given the annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel in 1967, the status of Jerusalem remains disputed under international law and therefore many states believe that Jerusalem should rather have an international status.
This unique international status of Jerusalem had already been acknowledged before the establishment of the state of Israel. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 (1), passed in 1947, provided for the internationalization of the city of Jerusalem. Again, in 1980, this time the Security Council, which is the only UN structure empowered to pass international law, not only once again condemned Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem but also Israel’s 1980 ‘Jerusalem Law’, which declared the city as Israel’s ‘complete and united’ capital. Today the US, through Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, is violating international law.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has certainly dogged free and democratic South Africa’s conscience. The state of Israel had unquestionable supportive and security links with apartheid South Africa. Yet when the ‘peace of the brave’ seemed to give hope to a lasting and just, peaceful settlement in the Middle East, the ANC government, adopting the two state solution, rendered Israel with the necessary recognition and cooperation.
Despite this recognition, it was Nelson Mandela himself who remained a true fighter for the freedom of the Palestinian people. South Africa, Mandela had declared, will never be completely free until Palestine was free. Addressing a group, whilst visiting South Africa, on the occasion of South Africa’s freely democratically elected president, Arafat reminded his audience that they, before him, were responsible for Palestine and Jerusalem; ‘the land,’ he continued, ‘that was blessed for the whole world.’
Both presidents Mandela and Mbeki had envoys to the Middle East and had tried to maintain cordial relations with the Israelis. Like the Americans they were sensitive to the needs of the region but also to the local Jewry to whom the state of Israel remained a sensitive matter. Yet as the Israelis persisted in their brazenness and bizarre behavior and attitude towards the international community and the Palestinians, especially under Netanyahu, the ANC, more than government, has been taking a firmer view against the apartheid state.
Currently, no ANC minister may visit the state of Israel and often ANC politicians have declined to host Israeli delegations. Whilst it has historically been a ally of Fatah and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, of late it has also reached out to build a friendship with Hamas. As it prepares for its 54th National Conference, a decision, pushed at the policy conference, will be made as to whether to downgrade South Africa’s representation in Tel Aviv and, if needs be, recall its ambassador.
While a number of proposals have been made and the decision will be decided at the Conference, the ANC must ensure that it does just one thing. It must send out a message to the international community that it will not sit by idly while the rights and freedoms of Palestinians are discarded and dismissed by a rogue regimes led by Trump and Netanyahu. The ANC must display to the world and say that it will be a contrast to that of the United States and ensure a downgrade of our representation in Israel, if not a complete withdrawal altogether.
As South Africans we are all too familiar with the notion of some citizens being treated as first class while the lives of others mean absolutely nothing. In our country we rejected that system and ensured that all people, irrespective of ethnicity, enjoyed the same rights and freedoms. While the United States may want to care more about the lives of Israelis than Palestinians, South Africans must declare that the life of the Palestinian is as worth as anyone else’s. Yesteryear South Africa was the skunk of the world, today it seems the United States is rushing to grab that title from Israel.
Buyile Matiwane is the Western Cape Provincial Chairperson of the South African Students Congress