Howard Feldman

Can the SA government help broker peace in the Middle East? One would think so

2018-06-06 13:23
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Virginia Mayo, AP, File)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Virginia Mayo, AP, File)

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The recent tweet by the South African government demanding that Israel immediately withdraws from Gaza is indicative of a serious problem. As it happens, Israel withdrew in 2005 and has only entered Gaza on a few occasions primarily to destroy Hamas' military infrastructure that it was using to launch rockets at civilians in Israel.

The South African government should have known that. It is fact and it is uncontroversial. 

And if it didn't have this information at hand, they could have and should have verified the information before engaging with Twitter diplomacy that put Donald Trump to shame. All that was missing was their desire "to make Gaza great again".

The gaff was reported in publications around the world and must have been highly embarrassing to a government that wishes to be taken seriously. The Twitter community of course had a field day with some responding that they demand the immediate release of Nelson Mandela.

It wasn't the ANC's proudest moment.

Of greater concern, however, and something that this tweet highlights, is where the South African government accesses and acquires its information. The lack of credible information discredits the government and whichever party is keeping them informed.

It is no secret that the ANC has made close allies of both the BDS movement as well as terror organisation Hamas, who it often welcomes to South Africa. Hamas refuses to acknowledge Israel's right to exist (in any form) and swears in its charter to rid the country of all Jews. It is almost impossible for the ANC to not know this, considering that Hamas repeats this as often as it can to anyone who will listen. If that isn't enough, Hamas launches rockets at Israeli civilians (including schools) whenever the opportunity arises, just to prove they mean what they say.

It is also no secret that Hamas' human rights record with regard to LGBTQ rights, women's rights, freedom of religion and expression are amongst the worst in the world. If the ANC doesn't know that, then it is because they have chosen not to.

Or their advisors are lying to them, and that should worry them.

Ironically, because of their close association with the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, and because of their outspoken support for the Palestinian cause, the South African government is one of the few parties that has the ability to assist in forcing the stakeholders to sit around a table in order to further a peace process.

Their bias and sympathy towards the Palestinians award them credibility with at least one of the participants. Those concerned that the government has a bias should note that almost everyone does in any situation. Russia is biased towards Iran, America is biased towards Israel and so on and so on. It doesn't mean that they should be disqualified from assisting a peace process.

But it also doesn't mean that they can afford to be oblivious to the facts and wilfully discard reality. The South African government cannot demand that Israel withdraws from Gaza when she withdrew in 2005 and she cannot state that the march that ignited the furore was one where civilians were unarmed, when they were not.

They are fully entitled to favour one party should they choose to do so, but not at the expense of the truth. And not if their bias is so great that they refuse to show any understanding or comprehension of the facts on the ground.

As imperfect as South Africa might be, the country largely remains an example of peaceful transition. Whereas there are very obviously many issues that South Africa needs to still come to terms with regarding its own past, the lessons learned in this process would be invaluable to those who are still to walk that road.

So long as it doesn't discredit itself along the way.

South Africa has an important role to play in assisting in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. The government sympathy towards the Palestinian cause in of itself does not preclude them from doing so. If anything does disqualify them, it is wilful and deliberate ignorance.

- Feldman is the author of Carry on Baggage and Tightrope and the afternoon drive show presenter on Chai FM.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    gaza  |  israel  |  middle east conflict
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