Pro-Israeli lobby, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, says it will be ill-advised for South Africa to downgrade its embassy in Israel to a liaison office.

Last week, the ANC national policy conference adopted a policy recommendation put forward by its Western Cape chapter to downgrade the South African embassy in Tel Aviv to a liaison office in what has been seen as a bid to reduce diplomatic ties with Israel.

In terms of the According to the resolution, the international relations commission called for the downgrading of the South African Embassy in Israel to send a strong message “about Israel’s continued illegal occupation of Palestine and the continued human rights abuses against the peoples of Palestine”.

Jewish Board of Deputies national director Wendy Kahn told Business Day at the weekend that the group would make submissions on the matter in the coming weeks and months, as the recommendation still needed to be ratified by delegates at the ANC national elective conference in December. Kahn said a risk analysis or study on the impact of downgrading the embassy, needed to be conducted between now and December.

“Notwithstanding, the [South African Jewish Board of Deputies], as a stakeholder in this issue, will be contributing to the outcomes of such a study, as well as the many conversations and debates on this issue in the comings weeks and months leading up to the elective conference. Our contribution will be on ways that we believe the ANC could play a real and meaningful role in the peace process,” said Kahn.

She said the organisation believes it would be “ill-advised and a missed opportunity for the ANC, for South Africa, to remove itself from the pivotal role of bringing the parties [Israel and Palestine] together to resolve this tragic conflict”.

“Without a fully functioning embassy in Israel, our role and ability as a country to realistically influence the process of peace between Israel and Palestine, and indeed the realisation of the two-state solution, will be greatly diminished,” Kahn said.

A number of observers believe Tel Aviv will also downgrade its embassy in South Africa should the ANC’s resolution come into effect.

Allan Horwitz, spokesman for the South African Jews for a Free Palestine, an organisation of South African Jews wishing to see a just resolution to the conflict, said the ANC’s resolution was “a concrete step beyond rhetoric”.

“Israel must be held accountable for its crimes against the Palestinian people and a clear message must be sent that there are no normal relations with an abnormal regime,” Horwitz said.

Palestinian Ambassador to South Africa Hashem Dajani reportedly said the ANC resolution was an “advanced move to put pressure on the apartheid government of Israel in order to end occupation of the state of Palestine.” The ANC’s stance would mark a recognition of the Palestinian right to self-determination and statehood.

ANC Western Cape provincial secretary Faiez Jacobs said: “We are under no illusion that Israel and its lobby will attempt to pressure the ANC but this mighty movement will remain steadfast in advancing the interests and solidarity of our people. We warn Israel not to interfere with our local politics, but instead to build a just peace with Palestinians.”

Like much of the world, the South African government believes in a two-state solution for the region.

At the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict is the question of land ownership and control, while the status of Jerusalem remains one of the most sensitive and complex issues of the feud.

The Palestinians consider East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, while Israel sees the entire city as its capital. Palestinians vehemently object to Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel argues that Palestinian incitement and violence, and a refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state, are key impediments to finding a lasting peaceful solution.

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