All for Gaza ceasefire, but EFF motion to cut ties with Israel may be a step too far for ANC
International Relations Deputy Minister Candith Maseko-Dlamini agreed that calls for the Israeli embassy’s closure ‘have merit’, while fellow ANC MP Hope Papo said the EFF motion had to be amended to succeed. After a heated debate, the ANC has until Tuesday’s vote to settle its party line.
The thing about Parliament is that it comes with its own rules, processes and practices that put the spoke in political spin.
No decision was scheduled following Thursday’s parliamentary debate on the EFF motion calling upon “the government to close the Israeli Embassy in South Africa and suspend all diplomatic relations with Israel”.
That vote will only come in a full sitting of the House on Tuesday, 21 November.
But these parliamentary niceties give the governing ANC the weekend to finalise what International Relations Deputy Minister Candith Mashego-Dlamini on Thursday described as engagements and discussions.
“Our government is in discussions on the matter of closing the Israeli embassy in Pretoria and we’ll need to take into consideration that it may affect our diplomatic presence in Palestine.
“The demands from South Africans for the closure of the Israeli embassy in Pretoria have merit…” said Mashego-Dlamini.
“(T)he government is engaging all relevant stakeholders regarding our diplomatic relations with Israel, given the war crimes and genocide we are witnessing in Gaza.”
Freedom Front Plus Chief Whip Corné Mulder bluntly told the deputy minister there would be “definite, direct implications” for the six South African diplomats stationed in Ramallah, Palestine. They would lose their diplomatic status, would have to live in Ramallah rather than Jerusalem, as they do now, and enter Palestine via Jordan.
“If you expel the Israeli ambassador and cut all diplomatic ties with Israel, SA will not be in a position to play any role whatsoever in terms of any mediation or any chance to play a constructive, positive role to bring this conflict to an end,” said Mulder.
“Not one Arab country which has diplomatic ties with Israel – Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, United Arab Emirates – has severed diplomatic ties with Israel despite what’s going on.”
Mulder added that South Africans would see on Tuesday whether the government would “do the right thing” and continue diplomatic attempts to solve this conflict.
ANC ‘open for engagement’
It was part of the verbal sparring and barbs lobbed across the virtual platform over the motion brought by EFF leader Julius Malema, expertly timed given South Africa’s positioning on this Middle East war.
In many ways, the motion rides on the back of strong public sentiment across South Africa that Israeli bombing and targeting of hospitals was disproportionate to the 7 October Hamas killing of 1,400 Israelis and the abduction of over 200 civilians.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War
But as Mashego-Dlamini’s statement showed, the motion also puts the government – keen to see itself as an international player and negotiator – on the back foot.
ANC MP and Deputy President Paul Mashatile’s parliamentary counsellor, Hope Papo, highlighted some of those dynamics, emphasising that “we should not move alone” and end up isolated in southern Africa and on the continent.
“This is why, whilst we support the essence of this motion, we are open for an engagement with the EFF so there could be some amendments…
“We will not close the embassy and cut diplomatic relations without putting conditions to that.
“If you do that (cut ties) full stop, then we close the opportunity for continued engagements with other stakeholders… and (lose) the ability to have influence on the situation,” said Papo.
He emphasised that amendments to reflect conditions were needed, “otherwise the motion will not be carried”.
So, unless the ANC and EFF get together before Tuesday’s vote to resolve sticking points, this motion is unlikely to succeed.
It wouldn’t be the first time. In February 2018, the ANC supported the EFF motion for expropriation without compensation, also after some fine-tuning.
As Mulder drily pointed out in Thursday’s debate, “The EFF took the initiative, and the ANC will have to follow.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Gift of the Givers backs motion seeking closure of Israeli embassy following Gaza office head killing
That debate unfolded in the wake of the ANC and its alliance partner, the labour federation Cosatu, throwing their support behind the EFF motion – without mentioning the EFF.
Or, as Luthuli House put it in an ANC statement just ahead of the debate, “… the ANC will agree to a parliamentary motion which calls upon the government to close the Israel Embassy in South Africa and suspend all diplomatic relations with Israel until Israel agrees to a ceasefire and commits to binding United Nations facilitated negotiations whose outcome must be a just, sustainable and lasting peace.”
In a statement, Cosatu’s international desk called on political parties in Parliament “to act decisively against the apartheid state of Israel for the horrifying war crimes against the people of Gaza and the whole of Palestine…”
A day earlier, President Cyril Ramaphosa, during an official visit to Qatar, announced that South Africa joined “many other countries across the world” to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“We have put through a referral because we believe that war crimes are being committed there. And, of course, we do not condone the actions that were taken by Hamas earlier, but similarly, we condemn the actions that are currently under way and believe that they warrant an investigation by the ICC,” said Ramaphosa in a video clip released by the Presidency on Wednesday.
This effectively was in line with International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor’s statement to the House a week earlier, days before the Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Eliav Belotserkovsky, was démarched in the sternest rebuke short of expulsion.
Pandor’s stipulations for addressing the conflict were repeated on Thursday – an immediate ceasefire, urgent humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, a UN protection force, and the investigation of Hamas for holding civilians hostage.
The debate also included condolences to Gift of the Givers. The group’s Gaza representative since 2013, Ahmed Abbasi, was, according to a statement on Facebook, “ directly targeted by the apartheid Israeli forces” as he and his brother returned from morning prayers.
Those moments of condolence stood in stark contrast to the point-scoring and often acerbic debate disrupted by frequent heckling.
Despite a point of order, Al Jama-ah leader Ganief Hendricks got away with saying, “Those who support the genocide in Palestine, like the DA, Action SA and ACDP… they behave like vampires.”
IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa had earlier called for an immediate ceasefire, saying “the war must stop”, but argued against cutting diplomatic ties as this would isolate South Africa and leave the country unable to contribute to peace negotiations.
DA MP and international relations spokesperson Emma Powell used her time at the podium, regardless of the EFF’s points of order, to try to poke holes in the ANC’s foreign policy stance, pointing out South Africa’s abstention in the UN over Sudan, where three million children are among the seven million displaced by war.
“If the ANC cared about human rights or international law, it would not have remained silent in the face of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.”
In closing the debate, Malema sharply criticised fellow opposition parties but tactically opened the door to the ANC for another set of discussions.
“We are not opposed to amendment of any motion as long as, at the end of the day, we agree that the Israeli ambassador is dismissed,” said Malema.
How that unfolds will emerge in the vote in the House on Tuesday. DM