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Thursday, 16 November 2023 22:39

ANC to back opposition motion to close Israeli embassy.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

Deputy Minister of International Relations Candith Mashego-Dlamini has told MPs that the government is discussing the closure of Israel's embassy in Pretoria.

Mashego-Dlamini was speaking during a debate of the closure of the Israeli embassy in Parliament on Thursday.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) tabled a draft resolution to remove the embassy in and suspend all diplomatic relations with Israel amid the war with Hamas.

Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas in retaliation for October 7 attacks launched by the militant group that Israel says left 1,200 dead, most of them civilians, and 239 taken hostage.

Its relentless bombardment and growing ground offensive has left more than 11,500 people dead, mostly civilians and including thousands of children, according to Gaza's Hamas-run health ministry.

"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."

EFF leader Julius Malema said his party supports President Cyril Ramaphosa's call for the Israeli government to be investigated by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

"Israel does not see Palestinian children, it hates them the same way the apartheid regime hated black children like Tsietsi Mashinini, Hector Peterson, and many who were murdered in Soweto in 1976 and beyond," Malema said.

"We call on the Ramaphosa-ANC government to shut down the Israeli embassy in Pretoria and end all diplomatic relations with that brutal apartheid Israeli regime.

"In the name of our own constitutional values, we must end these relations until the human rights of Palestinians are respected, promoted and protected. Israel must comply with international law. Until then any relations with them must be regarded as offensive to our constitution."

But the DA's Emma Powell said South Africa must retain diplomatic channels with both Israel and Palestine in order to influence peace talks.

"It is vital for South Africa to retain diplomatic channels with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The ANC's decision to withdraw diplomats from Tel Aviv and the EFF's proposed expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador from South Africa.. will simply diminish our country’s ability to demand accountability in the region and to influence a swift and peaceful resolution to this abhorrent war.

"In the face of this brutal war, the political opportunism on display by both the ANC and the EFF is indicative of their inherent moral bankruptcy."

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.

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".

ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe rejected the draft resolution, saying it will have an impact on trade and business relations.

"To label Israel as an apartheid state is a lie that was coined by haters of Israel. To insinuate that Israel does not own the land they are living on is another lie that the ACDP rejects.

"The EFF and the ANC must stop being hypocrites and accept the fact South Africa has many needs – and Israel has the expertise to meet them in areas such as healthcare, innovation, technology, agriculture, and economic growth.

"Without Israel, we risk diplomatic tensions that can hinder communication channels for addressing regional issues and ending business collaborations that would reduce economic opportunities, trade, investments, and job creation."

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.