Picture: Ahmad Gharabli / AFP – Israeli security forces during the expulsion of worshippers from Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City following clashes with Palestinians in Al-Aqsa Mosque on April 5, 2023. Israeli police said they had entered to dislodge “agitators”, a move denounced as an “unprecedented crime” by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas. Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, called on Palestinians in the West Bank “to go en masse to the Al-Aqsa mosque to defend it”.
By David Monyae
In the Islamic month of Ramadan, Israeli provocateurs invaded the Al Aqsa Mosque, bringing into sharp relief the long-standing disagreements in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Even before the raid happened, there were fears that a confrontation was in the offing because in 2023 the Jewish celebration of the Passover happened at the same time that Muslims were observing Ramadan.
Al Aqsa is the third holiest citadel of Islam, surpassed only by Mecca and Medina. It has to be noted that the area is of great importance for Christians and Jews because of its Biblical significance.
Even more surprising than the brazen sacrilege has been the reaction of the West, where the raid has not raised outrage and shrill calls for penalising Israel. All this could be explained using one word: America. Since the founding of the Jewish state in 1947, American has ordained for itself, for better or worse, the inflexible role of Israel’s protector.
This, as history has shown, has been one of the major impediments in finding a durable solution to the conflict in the Holyland. One has to look at America’s foreign policy behaviour to understand its role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The United States has always harboured designs of exporting its values to the rest of the world. At times this has taken more benign formulae such as aid and investment. At other times it has taken more sinister methods such as planting and propping up lackeys – not with the intent of installing democracy, but with putting pliant stooges in position of national and international influence.
The 1992 State of the Union Address given by George HW Bush gives a proper sense of America’s bullish disposition after the Cold War. “The biggest thing that has happened in the world in my life, in our life is this,” said the then 68-year-old president, “by the grace of God America won the Cold War.”
More than three decades after the end of the Cold War, one can say while America might have won the Cold War, it certainly did not win converts to its values and mode of politics. Out of desperation, countries in the developing world pretended to espouse American ideas of economics, politics and social development. This was nothing more than succumbing to duress and humouring America in a ploy to attract its seemingly bottomless reserves of largesse.
In the Middle East, winning converts was of great importance as it would have helped to end the conflict between Israel and its Muslim neighbours. Attempts have been made for decades on end.
In the balmy and rustic sanctuary of Camp David, Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat and Menachim Begin hammered out the Camp David Accords that led to Egypt recognising Israel. It was a seismic moment because, even though Israel did not accede to withdraw to its pre-1973 parameters, it earned a breakthrough by being recognised by the most populous Arab nation.
Sadat, on the other hand, had irrevocably forfeited the friendship of the Arab, and had unknowingly signed his own death warrant, which led to his public assassination in 1981. Today, all people can bear witness to the fact that the nostalgic days of Camp David and America’s unparalleled influence are long behind us.
Countries that America had targeted for cultivating, such as Egypt, Sudan, and Libya, are either in disarray or still authoritarian, their relationship with Israel still complicated by their feelings towards the United States.
It does not help that America has also been involved in a seemingly endless battery of unwinnable wars from Afghanistan to Iraq. Involvement in the Middle East convinces the Arab world that America cannot be expected to be an impartial broker in the Arab-Israeli conflict. There are ways in which this can change.
First, the United States has proved reserves of US crude oil and lease condensate increased by 6.2 billion barrels (16 percent), from 38.2 billion barrels to 44.4 billion barrels at year-end 2021. The same year, domestic production of crude oil and lease condensate decreased 1 percent. This gives America the opportunity to treat al Arab countries in fairness, without favouring those from whom it seeks to get oil and gas.
Secondly, this sufficiency on America’s part opens up opportunities for other players to step into the breach and do their part in trying to find a lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. China’s success in shepherding the normalisation of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia is an illustration that, waiting in the wings, are possible peace brokers if only America could loosen its grip on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Due to the importance of the Middle East, especially on matters that incorporate religion and oil resources, the Arab-Israeli conflict has global significance. Africa also has a stake in the Middle East, as the Continent has sizable numbers of Muslims and Christians.
Africa has often been construed as being pro-Palestine because of the history of the PLA’s solidarity with Africa’s liberation movements. Nevertheless, Africa can still play a constructive role. The ejection of an Israeli delegation from the African Union was not an anti-Israel act, but a reminder that inviting Israel to the African Union had not involved wide African consultation.
Among sub-Saharan African countries, the charge of anti-Israel sentiment has been very loud in the case of South Africa. This is so for reasons of solidarity mentioned above. It should be noted however, that South Africa has a Jewish demographic that has been vocal about Israel’s oppressive treatment of Palestinians.
Inveighing against Israeli excesses should not be characterised, mistakenly or deliberately, as anti-Israel or, even worse, as anti-Jewish. South Africa’s calls for Israel to be declared an apartheid state have nothing to do with race and religion, but with their abuse of power.
The players that condemn Israel’s actions usually do so from the perspective of an instructive history, one that has seen relentless denials of human rights to certain groups. While calling out Israel’s excesses, players such as Africa and China will also need to moderate the sensibilities of countries such as Iran, counsel them out of their extremism towards Israel.
America should no longer act as a single guarantor of peace between Israel and its neighbours. America does not appreciate the context of the Middle East and hence cannot relate to some of its fears. Countries such as China and South Africa, that know all-too well about foreign domination and occupation and denial of human rights based on one’s identity should be more involved in the Middle East.
They should, however, persuade all parties that their actions are driven by concern for Arab-Israeli citizens and for global peace rather toeing a certain self-serving agenda.
Prof David Monyae is Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations, and Director of the Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS)