As we embrace the year of Nelson Mandela and celebrate a life lived for the people, we must never forget the passion he had for the liberation and emancipation of all people around the world. Freedom and humanity are central to the legacy of our international symbol of peace and freedom. Bab’Mandela was emphatically passionate about the liberation of the of the Middle East, believing as we should, that our struggle for freedom would not be complete if the people of the Middle East are not free.
The recent posture of the United States undermines not just the freedom of the Paletinian and Iranian people but the Freedom, liberation and humanity of all. We can never be wholly human if we remain indifferent to the suffering of others. The recent geo political shifts driven by the United States speak to the need for BRICS to consolidate its resolve and provide unwavering support for the liberation and Freedom of all.
Central to undermining the legacy of Nelson Mandela is the unfettered arrogance and hypocrisy of the United States that seems, to unashamedly be channelled at serving its own narrow self-interest and nothing else. Hastily and uncharacteristically, the US administration signed a deal with North Korea and ended a deal with Iran. For sure, the Koreans were testing missiles and were constantly looking for ways to experiment with nuclear weapons but if the Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu administrations are to be believed then Iran too is a matter of urgency. Why the different approaches?
It was his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, according to Michael Wolf’s book ‘Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House’, released in January 2018, who heavily influenced the Trump administration’s anti-Iran policy.
Coupled with Flynn’s views was Trump’s Middle East point person, friend of Benjamin Netanyahu and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. All three of these men, Netanyahu, Flynn and Kushner, shared the exact same strategy for the region: form an alliance with the Arab nations to isolate Iran and then force the Palestinians to accept a deal.
But together with Trump they needed a friend in the region and they found one. He too was a new kid on the political block, had ambitions and thus portrayed himself as a ‘moderniser’ and an ‘outsider’ to the establishment that Saudis had come to know in the House of Saud. Mohammed bin Salam (MbS) shared these characteristics with Trump and, like the American president, had placed emphasis on the economy, to “out-Dubai Dubai”, as Wolf puts it.
According to Wolf, it was MbS who reached out to Kushner, a relative of the US president. He, like Kushner, was no policy person and felt much more comfortable dealing with a close family member; practices common in Saudi Arabia. The MbS relationship with Kushner would soon cause consternation in the US establishment and almost immediately after the US president’s first foreign trip, to Saudi Arabia, MbS would stage a palace coup and be named crown prince. Trump, according to Wolf, together with Kushner would claim credit for the coup by telling friends: “We’ve put our man on top!”
The US president’s Saudi trip was significant. A 350 billion US dollars arms deal over ten years, the fact that the Saudis could summon over fifty Arab and Muslim countries to listen to Trump and the ostracisation of Qatar all playing into divisive ends. This is what Trump wanted and he would later give credit to his son-in-law by saying: “Jared’s gotten the Arabs totally on our side. Done deal”, according to Wolf.
Eight months after the Saudi trip and a month after Trump declared that the US embassy in Israel would be moved to Jerusalem and thereby recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the ‘Middle East Monitor’, on 11 January 2018, reported that a Palestinian Liberation Organisation executive committee member, Ahmad Majdalani, indicated that MbS had presented them with the US ‘deal of the century’. Kushner had informed MbS of the details of the plan. The Palestinians were not satisfied and insisted on the Saudi sponsored 2002 Arab peace initiative. Kushner’s deal spoke of an Arab-Israeli alliance against Iran and it remained “ambiguous”, on Palestine, according to MEMO.
Even though MbS had described the embassy move as “painful”, and had met with Kushner about the Palestinian deal in Washington, he surprised everyone when in an interview with ‘The Atlantic’ on 2 April 2018 he would declare that he “…believe[s] that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation. [He] believe[s] the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land.”
It was the first time ever that an Arab leader acknowledged the Israeli “right” to their own land. He went on to suggest that the only concern the Saudis had was for the Holy Mosque in Jerusalem and the rights of Palestinians. Furthermore, he declared Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei worse than Hitler because at least “Hitler tried to conquer Europe…The supreme leader is trying to conquer the world”, he told the paper.
MbS also described the ‘evil triangle’ as the terrorist groups, ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Houthi rebels, together with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. The US media reported his comments about Israel as showing the growing bond between Israel and the Kingdom against the common enemy: Iran.
A day after his remarks on the Israeli’s “right” to a homeland, it was reported that his father, King Salman, in a call to Trump, reiterated Saudi support for the Palestinians. A week later, whilst addressing the Arab League Summit in Dhahran and with MbS sitting behind his father, the Times of Israel reported on 11 April, that King Salman “slammed” the US decision to move their embassy to Jerusalem because East Jerusalem was seen as “an integral part of the Palestinian Territories…”
The king went further to demonstrate Saudi support for the Palestinians by pledging 150 million US dollars to the Jerusalem’s Islamic property. But he also went on to condemn “Iran’s terrorist acts in the Arab region”.
Despite his father’s pledge and promise to the Palestinians, ‘Fox News’ reported on 30 April 2018, that MbS had told the Palestinian leadership “…to agree to come to the negotiations table or shut up and stop complaining.” He is also to have explicitly expressed his views on the Palestinian cause not beinga priority for the Middle East region as much as Iran, as well as the need “to normalise relations with Israel”. The report went on to indicate that the two countries, Saudi Arabia and Israel, do enjoy “clandestine ties” while top Saudi officials have met with Israeli lawmakers and officials.
All of this also indicates the important role that the Saudis play in the question of Palestine. The future of Palestine lies squarely in the hands of the Arab nations in general and the Saudis in particular.
What does all of this mean to us in South Africa though? Firstly, our approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one that is based on an oxymoron construction: realist-idealist. Our relations with Israel, maybe like that of Saudi Arabia towards Israel, is based on the realism that Israel continues to be a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East; hence our continued trade with them as well as their commercial interests in South Africa.
Yet at the same time, our approach to the Palestinian question is based on the idealism that all people should be granted the right to a homeland and that the injustices committed against Palestinians must be rectified. South Africa, and those supporting Palestine, must start by literally ‘putting money where their mouths are’ and start investing in the Palestinian territories, this will take the SA-Palestine relationship from an ideal to a real one, the necessary shift from idealism to realism.
Secondly, as we have seen earlier, Israel is not the only force to be reckoned with in the Middle East and while we enjoy good relations with the Saudis and the Egyptians, though our hesitation with the Sisi government whom the Saudis and the US enjoy strong relations with, we realise that our relationship with Iran is also indispensable.
It is in this light and that Iran is currently once again facing international isolation through US sanctions, this reality must propel us to move from the duplicitous contradiction of our idealism and to start to realistically change the material conditions to beset all if we remain sterile in our theory. It is with this background that our partners in BRICS, especially Russia and China in particular as partners in the Iran Deal, become useful. BRICS must be able to ensure that it can offer Iran a safe landing in the face of US ostracisation. Our struggle and humanity is not complete until the complete liberation of the people in the Middle East. BRICS must become a useful vehicle to progressively influence positive humanistic change in the Middle East, this can only happen with more practical interventions targeted at redressing the economic ostracisation of Iran and the intensification of sanctions on Israel.
To fully celebrate the life of Nelson “Madiba” Mandela we must balance our idealism with the realistic discharge of our humanistic responsibility to all our people. BRICS must be used as a vehicle to practically challenge all oppression and isolation that undermines the freedoms our all people.
Sifiso ‘Tso”Mtsweni is a ANC Youth League NEC member and Buyile Matiwane is the Chairperson of the South African Students Congress in the Western Cape