Opinionista Edna Molewa 15 November 2017

ANC committed to critical engagement around Israel/Palestine issue

The African National Congress (ANC) International Relations Sub-committee’s engagement with an Israeli delegation at the organisation’s headquarters in Johannesburg last week has been mis-characterised on a number of levels.

An account of the engagement was covered in Peter Fabricius’ article Israel hopeful SA won’t downgrade relations (Daily Maverick 9 November 2017).

This distortion has led to criticism of the ANC from certain groupings on social and traditional media platforms – who seek to attribute some kind of “special” status to what was in effect an unscheduled encounter.

Matters have not been helped by the Israeli embassy in South Africa – which has mischievously described the engagement as “inter-ministerial”. The office of the Israeli politician has called it “the first ministerial meetings between Israel and the South African government in five years”. Both characterisations are incorrect.

Last Monday a delegation from the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBOD) visited the ANC’s Johannesburg head offices for a matter unknown; and were accompanied by the Israeli Minister for Regional Co-operation, Tzachi Hanegbi as well as the new Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Lior Keinan.

A task team comprising members of the ANC’s International Relations Sub-committee happened to be meeting in the building at the same time to prepare for the ANC’s National Conference in December.

This team has been tasked with considering recommendations made at the recently held National Policy Conference (NPC) – among them conducting an analysis of the implications of a possible downgrade/shut down/status quo of the South African Embassy in Israel.

The IR task team obliged a last minute request from the visiting delegation to meet. From the outset, the ANC reiterated its position on Palestine and its call for an end to the illegal and unjust occupation of all Palestinian land. This is not a position that is articulated behind closed doors; it is well-known and is both principled and consistent.

As would have been expected, the visiting delegation expressed its concern around the recommendation by the NPC regarding the South African Embassy in Israel – and a robust engagement took place.

It was made clear to the delegation that only the ANC’s National Conference in December would take a final resolution on the matter. The visiting delegation was further advised that if they so wished, they could submit written inputs to the Task Team on this issue as well as on other matters towards the ANC National Conference.

This engagement has been misconstrued by some who want to imply that the ANC’s support for the Palestinian cause is wavering. Nothing could be further from the truth.

ANC President Nelson Mandela rightly called the Palestinian struggle “the greatest moral issue of our time” – and the organisation has throughout its history affirmed its support for Palestinian aspirations for an independent state along the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

As the 53rd National Conference of the ANC noted: “The ANC is unequivocal in its support for the Palestinian people in their struggle for self-determination, and unapologetic in its view that the Palestinians are the victims and the oppressed in the conflict with Israel.”

The ANC policy on Palestine, which is being operationalised by the South African government, is in support of the two state solution – and is steadfast in its opposition to the illegal occupation of Palestinian land; to land seizures; to detentions without trial and extra-judicial killings; and to the expansion of settlements, especially in the occupied West Bank.

The ANC has consistently and will continue to speak out against what the 2007 Polokwane conference resolution called “a systematic policy of colonial expansion, ethnic cleansing and military occupation of the most brutal kind, which as South Africans we readily recognise from our own experience of apartheid”.

The ANC as the governing party remains committed to its government playing a constructive role in the Middle East peace process, and as such reaffirms the need to engage: directly if needs be where need be, with actors across the political spectrum in both Israel and Palestine.

Our government, through the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) has consistently called for a just and lasting solution to the Israel/Palestine question – and has engaged the parties through the President’s Special Envoys.

The South African government continues to emphasize its commitment to multi-lateralism – in order to ensure lasting peace and security in the region.

We have since 1994 played a role in supporting peace efforts by amongst other things “sharing our negotiating experience, supporting capacity building and Institutions-strengthening in Palestine itself, providing humanitarian assistance through support to UNRWA, and facilitating inter-Palestinian dialogue”.

In the words of Inkosi Albert Luthuli at the opening of the 42nd Conference of the ANC in 1953: “Our interest in freedom is not confined to ourselves only. We are interested in the liberation of all oppressed people in the whole of Africa and in the world as a whole… our active interest in the extension of freedom to all people denied it makes us ally ourselves with freedom forces in the world.”

The ANC will continue to intensify our solidarity efforts in line with our principled position on Palestine. It is in the best interests of both peoples that an urgent and lasting solution be found – in order to end a protracted conflict that has endured for far too long. DM

Edna Molewa is chairperson of the ANC’s international relations sub-committee

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