National Assembly votes to cut diplomatic ties with Israel and shut embassy, but it’s symbolic until government acts
With a vote of 248 for and 91 against, the amended EFF motion calling on the government to close the Israeli embassy in Pretoria and cut diplomatic ties was carried in the National Assembly on Tuesday.
Crucial to the vote was that the governing ANC got the amendment it had indicted in Thursday’s often tense debate as necessary for its support. But it was made clear in the House this was not a binding resolution, but a “politically persuasive” one.
Tabled by ANC Chief Whip Pemmy Majodina, and publicly formally agreed to by EFF leader Julius Malema, this amendment introduced the governing party’s wish for conditionalities – a ceasefire and a lasting United Nations-facilitated peace.
The amended resolution of the House on Tuesday called “upon the government to close the Israeli Embassy in South Africa and suspend all diplomatic relations with Israel until a ceasefire is agreed and Israel commits to binding UN-facilitated negotiations whose outcome must be a just, sustainable and lasting peace”.
Shouts of “Free Palestine” and “Free Palestine, from the river to the sea” erupted from the ANC and EFF benches following the vote in which the two parties were also supported by the one and two-seaters, al Jama-ah, the National Freedom Party, the African Transformation Movement and the Pan-Africanist Congress.
But, as always, the devil is in the details.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War
As presiding officer and House chairperson Cedric Frolick put it in explaining the House’s competency to deal with this matter, “Such a resolution will be politically persuasive rather than instructive.”
This effectively means the government may well decide to simply note but not act on this National Assembly resolution. Or decide not to even note.
While the parliamentary vote to cut diplomatic ties with Israel and shut its embassy in Pretoria echoes the stance of the ANC’s Luthuli House, it contradicts International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor’s statements in Parliament.
“… (B)reaking off diplomatic relations with Israel will be counterproductive as it will also affect our Representative Office in Ramallah, Palestine, and by implication weaken the meaningful role that South Africa can play in the Palestinian cause,” Pandor said in Monday’s parliamentary reply to the IFP.
“The government of South Africa will be considering the various calls made to further downgrade its diplomatic relations with Israel given the flagrant breaches of international law, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide…”
In a statement to the House on 7 November, Pandor outlined necessary steps, including an “immediate comprehensive ceasefire”, the full opening of humanitarian corridors so aid and basic services can reach those in need, the release of all civilian hostages and a United Nations rapid deployment force to monitor the ceasefire and to protect civilians.
In addition, all parties were urged to exercise restraint from fuelling the conflict, help establish a nuclear-weapon-free Middle East zone, and resume a “comprehensive dialogue” between Palestine and Israel.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Pandor calls for immediate ceasefire in Gaza and an end to Israel’s ‘collective punishment on all Palestinians’
Such steps were also outlined by President Cyril Ramaphosa who chaired Tuesday’s extraordinary BRICS meeting on the Israel-Gaza war, according to a statement from the Presidency.
Pretoria’s determined stance on Israel committing war crimes and genocide in Gaza was evident when South Africa joined several countries to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In a parliamentary reply on Monday to the EFF on South African-Palestine solidarity, Pandor said, “South Africa and Palestine are currently working on formulating practical strategies towards taking up the Palestinian cause to the ICC and ICJ (International Court of Justice) to declare Israel as an apartheid state…”
The flurry of parliamentary questions signals the centrality in South African political public life of the Israel-Gaza war following the 7 October killing of around 1,200 civilians by Hamas and the kidnapping of more than 200 people from Israel into Gaza, where they are being held hostage.
Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, which has killed more than 13,000 residents – many of them children – alongside orders to evacuate Gaza City to the south and now west, has been condemned internationally, as well as by various United Nations agencies and Secretary-General António Guterres.
As Ramaphosa chaired the BRICS meeting, opposition parties in the House cautioned against isolating South Africa by cutting diplomatic ties with Israel.
“It will have consequences for the standing of South Africa in the international world,” said FF+ chief whip Corné Mulder.
“The ANC has now followed the EFF. We will vote against this motion. You have made a mistake.”
DA MP and international relations spokesperson Emma Powell described the motion as “counterintuitive” to wanting a stake in negotiating a solution to the conflict.
“The ANC is scoring an own goal here. It’s a firm no from us. We need to have a stake in negotiating a peace…”
IFP chief whip Narend Singh also emphasised that South Africa “should not exclude ourselves from a peace process”.
But the opposition NFP and Al Jama-ah took a different line.
While NFP MP Shaik Emam welcomed the “revolutionary” decision, Al Jama-ah leader Ganief Hendricks said, “There is no place for Israel in South Africa. Every trace of Israel must be wiped off our land.”
Should Pretoria decide to heed the National Assembly resolution, the ramifications could include the loss of diplomatic representation in Tel Aviv and Ramallah.
This could affect the 120 South Africans who, since 7 October, have contacted SA missions in Israel and Palestine as “(d)istressed South African nationals in Gaza… on the United Nations (UN) rescue list and ready to be moved out of Gaza when the opportunity arises”, according to another parliamentary reply from Pandor.
The “politically persuasive” National Assembly resolution to cut diplomatic ties with Israel and shut that country’s Pretoria embassy is done and dusted.
What happens next will reflect factional battles in the ANC – and how government wants to position itself on this as well as other broader global geopolitical issues. DM