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How feasible is South Africa’s offer to mediate in the war between Israel and Hamas?

How feasible is South Africa’s offer to mediate in the war between Israel and Hamas?
Supporters of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign protest outside Parliament in Cape Town | Two South African groups, one pro Palestine and the other pro Israel, protest side by side outside Parliament in Cape Town on 24 August 2018. | The South African flag. (Photos : EPA-EFE / Nic Bothma / Kim Ludbrook)

Pretoria has offered to mediate to try to end the devastating war that has erupted between Hamas and Israel and which has killed well over 1,000 people on both sides in just two days. But does the ANC government really have the diplomatic skills, the clout and the impartiality to be an honest broker? And is the conflict anywhere near ripe for mediation anyway?

President Cyril Ramaphosa is leading a seven-nation African Peace Mission to try to address Russia’s war against Ukraine. Some believe it has achieved some success, particularly because Ramaphosa has been able to deliver some straight messages to his friend Russian President Vladimir Putin about the need to repatriate abducted Ukrainian children and exchange prisoners of war.

Could he do the same in the Middle East, perhaps leveraging the ANC’s ties with Hamas?

SA ‘ready to mediate’

The government offered its services for peace in its statement this weekend condemning the violence between Israel and Gaza and calling for an immediate ceasefire.

“South Africa stands ready to share its experience in mediation and conflict resolution as it has done on the continent and around the world,” it said.

Zev Krengel, the national vice-president of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, told a press conference on Monday: “I think South Africa could have had a major role to play. I think it still could, with our relationship with Hamas and with Egypt.

“We have had quite a bit of success where we’ve been the honest broker, where both sides have listened to us. So how could we have played a role in Russia? Because we’ve always had the ear of Putin … so when President Ramaphosa went there he could do something.”

israel palestine sa

People inspect the destroyed Al-Aklouk Tower after Israeli air strikes, in Gaza City, on 8 October 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Mohammed Saber)

But Krengel added that South Africa’s problem was that Israel did not see it as an honest broker because South Africa had downgraded its embassy in Tel Aviv, hadn’t received any diplomatic visits and in this conflict had shown no sympathy for the Israelis who had been killed, injured or abducted by Hamas.

“It’s a bit like asking Belarus to do a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine. They sit in the Russian camp. It doesn’t help.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA government claims it has been consistent on the Palestine question

However, Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, the national director of the SA Institute of International Affairs, didn’t accept Krengel’s analogy between South Africa and Belarus — mainly because SA was not a neighbour of Palestine and by no means dependent on it as Belarus is on Russia. And so, she said, there was a possibility of Pretoria playing a role.

“There is potentially an opportunity, as with Ukraine, for South Africa to use its good offices with one side, working together with other parties. Because it’s a bit like Ukraine, it’s not going to be one set of processes that are going to lead to a resolution. It’s different groupings potentially working together, or coordinating at any rate, that might help.”

Roelf Meyer, head of the In Transformation Initiative (ITI) which has mediated in many international conflicts, agreed that South Africa could play a role, but only in a collective effort with others.

Meyer recalled that in 2015 and 2016, ITI had brought representatives of Hamas and Fatah (which runs the Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank) together in South Africa, to try to overcome their divisions and give impetus to the stalled peace process. The initiative was backed by the Barack Obama administration and had made progress. But it faded after Donald Trump took office.

israel hamas sa

Palestinians walk amid the rubble of a destroyed area after Israeli air strikes in Gaza City on 9 October 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Mohammed Saber)

There were earlier efforts by South Africa to achieve peace in the Middle East, mainly the Spier Initiative under the then president, Thabo Mbeki, in 2002 which brought members of Israel’s ruling Likud party and Fatah together for talks at the eponymous wine estate in Stellenbosch. But the Israeli government lost interest.

Meyer said the problem with any South African Middle East peace initiative was that the SA government had lost influence on the Israeli side because of its pro-Palestinian position. But it still had contacts with Hamas.

“And so if we can find collaborators with access to the Israeli side, we could play a role.

“But first the dust will have to settle at least,” he added, noting that the incursion by Hamas had probably given even greater control to the Israeli right wing.

Moderates sidelined

Sidiropoulos also questioned whether the conflict was yet ripe for mediation, asking, “At this point, does either side want a solution?”

She added that both the Israeli and Palestinian sides had become increasingly radicalised and polarised over the past few years.  Moderate voices on both sides had ceded ground to radicals or had simply been pushed to the margins.

The Palestinian National Authority was increasingly seen by many Palestinians as having failed to strongly advance or articulate Palestinian opposition to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.

That had strengthened Hamas, which created a problem since Hamas did not recognise the existence of Israel. That obviously undermined the possibility of achieving the two-state solution that the international community wanted.

Sidiropoulos said it was clearly not acceptable that Hamas had attacked civilians in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

On the other hand, the various Netanyahu administrations had done nothing to reduce Jewish settlements in the West Bank, or stop the ill-treatment of Palestinians, or the way in which the harder-right elements of his administration — “like a red rag to a bull” — had provocatively visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Sidiropoulos said that at the moment everyone was caught up in the fighting and the attacks by Hamas on Israeli civilians and the seizing of hostages.

“But at some point, sounder minds will have to prevail. And at that point, both sides could potentially use all the connections and leverage points they might have.

“And I do think, on the Hamas side, South Africa could potentially play a role. But the stumbling block in any negotiations is about Hamas’s position on Israel’s right to exist.”

‘Genocidal violence’

However, Zeenat Adam, the deputy executive director of the Afro-Middle East Centre in Johannesburg, took a very different view.

She said, “The South African government may have a role to play in trying to resolve the current situation in the Middle East — by remaining firmly committed to the principles of international law and by discouraging new members of the BRICS to be drawn into potential protracted conflict, and refraining from normalisation with Israel until and unless the genocidal violence against Palestinians is halted and settlements are scaled back to open the way for concerted negotiations towards long-lasting peace.”

Adam appeared to be referring to the Abraham Accords, the reconciliation deals that Israel has been signing with Arab states, starting with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. A major breakthrough was expected in this initiative with indications that Saudi Arabia would also recognise Israel.

There has been conjecture that one of the reasons for the attack by Hamas on Israel was in protest against these deals with Arab states, which the Palestinians regarded as an abandonment of their cause.

Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia joined BRICS at its August summit in Johannesburg and Adam appeared to be urging Pretoria to discourage these new member states from normalising relations with Israel. 

“South Africans have recognised and understood the apartheid, settler-colonial siege of Palestinians and state-sponsored terrorism by Israel for decades would inevitably lead to retaliation by Palestinians,” Adam said. 

“South Africa consistently supported peace initiatives at both governmental and civil society levels until it was clear that the settler colonial Zionist state was disingenuous in all negotiations, pursuing a policy of violence and oppression, whilst flagrantly violating international law with absolute impunity under complete protection of its founder, the United Kingdom and its funder and enabler, the United States of America.

“All previous negotiations were bound to fail when dishonest parties were intent on the subjugation and capitulation of Palestinians.” 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel pounds Gaza, battles Hamas raiders after bloody incursion

At the Jewish community’s press conference, Karen Milner, the national chairperson of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, said that the South African Jewish community, which had very close family connections with Israel, had been shaken to the core by the “barbarism” Hamas had meted out to Israelis in its incursion.

“Every one of us knows someone who knows of someone who has been killed or is missing in Israel.”

Krengel said, “We know of South Africans that have probably been captured or murdered and are in Gaza and our government doesn’t care. We haven’t had one phone call.”

He said Pretoria’s downgrading of the embassy in Tel Aviv had made it difficult for the government to help South Africans who were trying to flee the country or caught up in the conflict. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Gordon Cyril says:

    The man who sees himself as a potential mediator refers to Israel as a settler colonial zionist state and yet claims impartiality? The principle of not negotiating with terrorists must also apply here. Hamas are a proscribed terrorist organisation in most sensible countries and have been ruthlessly exposed as being little more than ISIS in terms of their savage brutality in the murder, beheading, burning, abduction and rampant murder of young kids at pop concerts, saving some to rape them next to their dead friends…and then shooting them… bombing ambulances (and filming it) going door to door in kibbutzes hunting Jews to kill entire families (much like the SS Einstazgruppen in WW2) caging and then killing toddlers, parading girls they have just gang raped with blood streaming down their genitals and being spat on…yet SA who is seen as malign actor with zero credibility pretending that they are going to negotiate with a rational actor? Dont make me laugh. Hamas are savages and require excision.

    • William Dryden says:

      Well said Markgcfriedman, I’ve always said that Palestine was once a Christian state until the Islamic Hamas infiltrated and turned it into what it is today. Israel were right to respond to the Hamas bombings.

  • Denise Smit says:

    “The government stands by Hamas” That has be our official response. How can the SA government negotiate. Denise Smit

  • ZA Patriot says:

    It’s not just about minimising Hamas terror attacks. Israel is an Apartheid State and it needs to stop:

    * Illegal Settlers living in Palestine can vote in Israel but not Palestinians. Apartheid South Africa did the same, they put the people in their own “country” and so couldn’t vote. Israel doesn’t want 1 state as that would mean millions more voting. And it doesn’t want 2 states as that would mean giving valuable up land.

    * Israel has ethnically cleansed and fragmented areas into isolated cantons divided by Israeli settlements, and implemented Lebensraum tactics. This was called Bantustans in South Africa.

    * It denies Palestinian fishing past 3 nautical miles in some areas, and not past 15 nautical miles

    * The Apartheid Separation wall

    * The settlers kill and burn homes to get rid of people, stealing homes and destroying olive tree groves.

    * They control the water completely.

    * They get 12 hours of electricity a day.

    * Palestinians didn’t have 3G until 2018, their access is also restricted.

    * They blockade Gaza, making it a concentration camp of 2.2 million people.

    * Not All Israeli Citizens Are Equal (NYTimes article)

    * There were 5,248,185 Palestinian refugees in 2020; that’s equal to half the population of Israel.

    * Israel dictates who you can marry

    * Israel Segregated road system

    * Israel Forcibly Injected African Immigrants with Birth Control

    * 50% of Palestinians are children.

    I would give links to each but apparently I can’t.

    • Louise Louise says:

      Agreed, and as always one has to ask “who benefits?” when something horrific like this happens. It is certainly not the ordinary citizens. And people either don’t know, or forget, the history of Palestine. Go back to 1946 and look at who was living there. Then look to see who invaded Palestine and bombed their way into existence. War is horrific and never to be condoned but taking sides is pointless – we need to be on the side of humanity and ordinary people.

      • Steve Davidson says:

        For once I agree with you Louise!

        Really though, what’s the point? Israel is determined to take over all of the Palestinian land, so let them do it. Then their hard right Orthodox will destroy Israel. Simple.

        • Louise Louise says:

          *smile* I’m very glad we have found some common ground Steve! Ultimately it is the Zionists who control the narrative – from the media to banking to medical to literally everything. Blackrock, Vanguard, State Street – they all own each other and all are owned by Jews and Zionists. These wars and conflicts are encouraged, engineered and manipulated into being – it makes huge amounts of money, creates control over people and countries and sets people against one another. Looking at comments on the threads of various publications people are now “fighting” over which side to take, when in fact they are falling for the age-old “divide and rule” tactic. It’s the same in politics – it’s pointless voting for any politician, they are all wings of the same bird. And it’s the ordinary citizens who are the collateral damage. I feel for all those who are in Palestine and “Israel”, they are mostly ordinary people just wanting to live their lives but their governments have different ideas and goals.

    • Notmyname :) says:

      It’s completely OK to disagree with Israel and it’s policies and still condone what Hamas did over this weekend. Hamas terrorist were actively seeking out as many civilians as possible to slaughter, raping teenage girls and woman, murdering whole famalies in their own homes, taking hostage women, men, children, elderly, babies to use as bargaining chips, turned a rave ironically named nova peace festival into a bloodbath, burning houses and as the occupants (usually famalies) try escape the flames shoot them down as if in a shooting range, desecrating, unclothing and parading dead bodies while bloodthirsty crowds squel in delight – to not condone that is to loose all sense of your humanity

  • Iam Fedup says:

    Oh, please! Ramaphosa and the ANC aren’t capable of fixing broken traffic lights or filling potholes, and now they want to mediate. It’s like the 6-year old in Grade 1 trying to prevent brutal, irrational, fanatical Hamas terrorists from their own pathetic criminality. If the morons in charge want to spend their energy, there are a million problems in SA just waiting to be solved. Let competent people with credibility try to sort out the Middle East.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    The so called Russian peace initiative was either a fraud or a delusion by people who take themselves more seriously than others do. Similarly the very idea of SA mediating in this war is laughable.
    That is apart from the fact that there is nothing to mediate after the slaughter on the streets which stands no further description. Did the Jews in Europe mediate with the Einsatzgruppe.

    • Max Ozinsky says:

      Yes Sydney, zionists made numerous deals with the Nazi. And just two weeks ago the Canadian parliament was applauding a Ukrainian who fought on the Nazi side, involved in the murder of thousands of Jews, Russians and Gypsies. Strangely you and the Jewish Board of Deputies were silent about this. Remember when the British refused to negotiate with the zionists because they were terrorists? Today a terrorist, tomorrow a negotiating partner!

      • james davis Davis says:

        The Canadian government was totally unaware of the Ukrainian/ Canadian WWII veteran’s SS background. PM Trudeau gave an “unreserved apology” for the incident. I am sure ozinsky is fully aware of this.

        • Max Ozinsky says:

          This is not true. Ukrainian Nazi’s have been living in Canada since at least 1945. Some have been sent to the Soviet Union, Poland and other countries to face trial. They are well known Canada.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Oh please!! Cyril the spineless who has zero gravitas, stature and respect!! Not even his party respects him. The man is a fraud, a liar and totally two-faced that only the most naïve, gullible and frankly, stupid, could ever believe him. His record is atrocious, overseeing the destruction of SA and turning it into a virtual bankrupt state as deputy president and now as president. He ran the Eskom war room, knowing full well that his party was deeply involved and implicated in its capture. He was in charge of cadre deployment and boosting BEE to destructive levels etc etc etc. The list is endless. As for his record on foreign policy – shameful!! His and his vile government’s blind support for the mass-murdering and evil Putin monster in the unjustified and brutal war, and the overtly anti-Israel position, blaming only one side for the extremely complicated situation make him totally unsuitable to mediate. The Pope, Dai Lama or the leader of the Gift of the Givers would be far more appropriate.

  • Peter Holmes says:

    When I saw the headline to this article I checked my calendar to make sure it is not 1 April today.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    “But does the ANC government really have the diplomatic skills, the clout and the impartiality to be an honest broker?”

    Surely this can’t be a serious question can it?

  • Mark Wade says:

    As they ANC has already declared their support for Hamas, and blamed Israel for the brutal and savage invasion, they’re unlikely to be objective mediators.

  • James Webster says:

    It seems to be an inbuilt trait of South Africans in general, and the ANC in particular, that they overrate their own abilities. Both groups constantly demand admiration and respect when, at best, their behaviour is sub-par. They can’t seem to grasp that the reason they are disliked across the world is because all they ever do is play the victim, demand things and look for excuses for their underperformance. This means they are hardly a group of people you want mediating an extremely complicated and delicate situation. The ANC’s incompetence is blatantly obvious to everyone except itself, and only a group of people who are blind to their own ineptitude would have the gall to offer to mediate an Israeli-Palestinian war when time and again they have openly voiced their contempt for Israel. This is a case of the ANC fox wanting to guard the Israeli hens, which is more evidence for the arrogance and stupidity of both the SA electorate and its corrupt representatives.

    • A.K.A. Fred says:

      Absolutely true perspective. Google “Dunning-Kruger effect” to understand where the ANC is regarding their perceived ability. They are in the “ignorant” area of the graphic.

  • Peter Streng says:

    Indeed a complex issue. cANCer may have influence over the Philistines, and I use the latter word deliberately, but has zero credibility with the Israelis. The cannot therefore be a an honest broker in the dispute. – witness the one-sided statement from the cANCer on the weekend: pure bias and vitriol agreeing that the Phillistines were justified in the cold-blooded murder and hostage-taking of civilians.
    Israel has one chance now to obliterate Hamas etc and must not stop until the terrorists are completely vanquished.

  • Roel Goris says:

    If South Africa intended to be an “honest broker” in the current Israel-Hamas conflict, it should have started by doing a few simple things :

    1. Have the basic moral decency to condemn outright Hamas’ barbaric mass murder spree and hostage-taking of Israeli civilians, including the elderly, women, children and even babies.

    2. Drop or at least moderate its evident anti-Israel bias : officially degrading its diplomatic relations with Israel, describing Israel as a “colonial apartheid state” and publicly “standing with Palestine”, even after this barbaric mass murder perpetrated by Hamas.

    3. Recognize that Hamas, like its main sponsor Iran, denies the right of Israel to exist, and accept that this is a non-starter to peace negotiations. In terms of the 1993 Oslo Accords Israel recognized the Palestinian authority PLO (later Al Fatah), which in turn recognized Israel’s right to exist peacefully as a state. The basis was laid for further peace negotiations, which ended abruptly when Iranian-backed Hamas took over control of Gaza in 2007 – after a bloody fight with their Palestinian brothers Al Fatah – and started sending its rockets and suicide bombers into Israel, which then led to the Gaza blockade.

    True to form, South Africa – both the government and the governing party ANC – has failed on all these accounts. It is sliding ever more towards the autocratic camp, clearly feeling more at home with its Russian, Chinese and new Iranian BRICS partners.

  • Vas K says:

    We can all relax. The ANC government will not get another job to screw up and become an international embarrassment. Isn’t it obvious that Israel is facing an existential threat and is determined to eliminate Hamas? So, hopefully nobody to negotiate with.

  • Dhasagan Pillay says:

    It is a terrible indictment of the human intelligence, let alone political acumen of our foreign policy officers – starting with the President, that the first reaction is not to condemn and demand answers from the Palestinian Authority – as Hamas now is… but to race to release apologist propaganda. As would be any message other than one of utter outrage, disgust and veiled threats of diplomatic measures, beginning with the immediate hauling of every Palestinian official in the country to stand and account. No smiles, no handshakes, all flags accounted for at half mast and as many members of the media as you can gather for photos of men who consider themselves powerful and particularly blessed being treated like crackheads as everybody watches them with total distrust. Because, as exclusionary as that sounds, that’s backbone. That’s walking the long road it takes to assist Palestinians – make no qualms, the phrase “Free Palestine” rolls off my tongue with ease – to freedom.

  • Ben Harper says:

    A complete JOKE

  • Russell lang says:

    The ANC supports Hamas, mediators need to be neutral and not supporters of genocidal terrorists that have invaded a sovereign state, murdered young people at a music festival, attacked civilian homes, murdered the elderly, murdered and raped women, murdered babies, and children, and have taken hostages to use as human shields or bargaining chips. No, the ANC is anti-semitic, and as former terrorists are unqualified to do anything but support Hamas, to condemn Hamas would be hypocrisy. Besides this, it is not time to try and negotiate with Hamas murderers, it is time for Israel to defend itself properly and render Hamas incapable of continuing its terrorism for the foreseeable future, whatever that takes. There is no such nation as Palestine, and there never was. Israel was, and is, God’s chosen land for the nation of Israel all attempts to destroy Israel have failed and they will always fail, just watch what happens and you will see. That land also includes Judea and Samaria, and a great part of Syria. Anyone trying to take or divide this land is opposing the Almighty, so go negotiate with Him. But beware Genesis 12 v3.

  • South Africa has had experience in solving discrimination issues (apartheid). In my opinion, with the help of other parties they could reach a solution that suits each side of the conflict.

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