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African support needed for a peace mission in Palestine

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Picture: Armand Hough / Independent Newspapers / Taken on November 1, 2023 – Pro-Palestine supporters vowed to march to the City Hall, to demand that the Israeli embassy be closed and to isolate Israel over the genocide in Gaza. At the rate at which things are going, it will not be surprising if South Africa decides to cut diplomatic relations with Israel, the writer says.

By Sizo Nkala

South Africa is not relenting in its condemnation of Israel’s attacks on Palestine. At the rate at which things are going, it will not be surprising if South Africa decides to cut diplomatic relations with Israel.

Last year, the South African Parliament overwhelmingly voted to downgrade the country’s embassy in Israel as a response to Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territory.

The Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) issued a strong statement on the Israeli-Palestine conflict on October 30. The statement accuses Israel of carrying out a genocide through its strikes on Gaza which have killed more than 7,700 people including 3,195 children while an additional 1,000 children are reported missing after the destruction of buildings in Gaza.

The statement argues that Israel does not have the right, under international law, as an occupying power to unleash military attacks on the occupied territory. Without naming them, the department has accused the UN and the EU countries of being complicit in Israel’s commission of war crimes by providing it with massive amounts of military aid and diplomatic support.

It further called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue warrants of arrest for those responsible for killing the children in Gaza just as it issued one against the Russian President Vladimir Putin on allegations of unlawfully taking Ukrainian children to Russia for indoctrination.

The statement points out that the ICC’s credibility is on the line depending on how it responds to the atrocities unfolding in Gaza.

It further draws parallels between what is happening in Gaza with the 1994 Rwandan genocide where a million people were massacred while the world stood idly by.

More importantly, the department voiced its support for the UN General Assembly resolution adopted on October 27 calling for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities” in Gaza. Almost two-thirds (121) members of the UN voted in favour of the resolution while 14 countries voted against and 44 decided to abstain. The resolution was in line with the Cairo Peace Summit roadmap held in Egypt on October 21 which called for a truce and the establishment of humanitarian corridors.

However, the US, Israel’s foremost patron which has insisted on Tel Aviv’s right to defend itself, was one of the 14 countries that voted against the resolution.

The resolution came amid a deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Gaza with many families having no access to water, electricity, food, and medicine after Israel effected a blockade on the territory. The attack on infrastructure and healthcare facilities has made the situation worse.

Dirco has also called for the deployment of a rapid protection force under the UN to protect the civilians in Gaza from military attacks.

While the call for a peacekeeping mission in Gaza is noble and well-meaning, it is difficult to see it coming to fruition without the support of the US which has the veto power in the Security Council. Only the US has the power to convince Israel to allow a UN peacekeeping force in Gaza.

Israel’s leaders have shown that they are hellbent on eradicating the Hamas group in Gaza even if it comes at the cost of huge numbers of civilian deaths and displacement and Washington has offered its full support.

As such, a peacekeeping mission in Gaza is a distant possibility for now. As a matter of fact, there are reports that the US will consider supporting a peacekeeping force in Gaza only after Israel uproots the Hamas group from the Palestinian territory. It is anyone’s guess when that will be. In the meantime, Israel is being granted the licence to continue its bombing campaign on Gaza unabated until it is satisfied that Hamas has been completely eliminated.

One also wonders if South Africa’s call for a peacekeeping mission will receive unanimous support in Africa. While the majority of African countries voted in favour of the UN resolution on October 27, countries like Cameroon, South Sudan and Tunisia abstained while a few others namely Togo, Benin, and Seychelles were absent altogether.

And with Sudan burning in a civil war that has killed more than 9,000 people and plunged tens of millions of Sudanese into a humanitarian crisis, it would seem out of place for African countries to support a peacekeeping mission in Gaza while ignoring the crisis in Sudan.

What African countries can do at the moment to alleviate the situation in Gaza, is to offer their diplomatic support in platforms like the UN General Assembly and the Security Council.

Other countries such as Rwanda and Tunisia have sent aid to Gaza to help mitigate the humanitarian crisis. More countries in the region, South Africa included, should follow suit.

Dr Sizo Nkala is a Research Fellow at the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Africa-China Studies