Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

SA accepted the presidency of the UN Security Council for October. This offered a unique opportunity for the country to lead the international arena with courage, boldness and moral clarity. Sadly, SA squandered the moment at the UN Security Council open debate on the situation in the Middle East.

International relations & co-operation minister Naledi Pandor used the platform to repeat tired, unfounded and cliched arguments against Israel. In so doing SA missed the chance to focus on the real issues and faultlines of the Middle East and failed millions of people across the region suffering decades of oppression, violence and conflict, radicalism, dictatorships and totalitarian regimes. The minister’s harangue against Israel was not aimed at bettering the lives of the Palestinians or promoting peace in the region but was simply designed to single out, isolate and berate the Jewish state. 

Pandor opened her speech by insisting that “the question of peace in the Middle East will not be resolved unless the question of Palestine is resolved”. This is a groundless statement. One need merely consider some of the recent conflicts in the theatre of the Middle East:

  • Syrian civil war (2011-; 500,000 deaths)
  • Iran–Saudi Arabia proxy conflicts (2011-)
  • Iraqi civil war (2014–17; 70,000 deaths)
  • Yemeni civil war (2015-; 50,000 deaths)
  • 2016 West Iran clashes
  • 2017 Iraqi–Kurdish conflict (800+ deaths)
  • Iraqi insurgency (2017–; 5,000 deaths)

None of these terrible conflicts has had anything to do with the “question of Palestine”, nor was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remotely in the minds of the perpetrators or their victims. Pandor merely repeats and perpetuates the myth that Palestine is the central cause and effect of Middle East conflict and discontent. Facts demonstrate otherwise.

One is unsure what Pandor means by the closing of schools, but presumably she is not referring to schools closing in Israel when rockets are fired from Gaza, terrorising children and families

SA places all blame, responsibility and burden onto Israel for the failure to achieve peace with the Palestinians. The minister’s speech abdicated all agency and moral duty on the part of the Palestinians and abandoned history and context to promote a partisan position. Some have called this soft attitude towards the Palestinians the “bigotry of low expectations”. SA seems blind to all Palestinian acts of violence, terror and war against Israeli civilians and denies context to the situation.

Pandor condemns the “violence directed at the people of Gaza and the West Bank through occupation and aggression by Israel”, but is silent on decades of Palestinian violence, terror, intifadas and rejectionism against Israel. She speaks of “building of further barriers and walls, the closing of schools and killing of civilians”. The walls to which she refers is most likely Israel’s security barrier, successfully built to save thousands of Israeli lives after the Arafat intifada, which violently rejected the most generous of Israeli peace offers that could have led to a Palestinian state.

One is unsure what Pandor means by the closing of schools, but presumably she is not referring to schools closing in Israel when rockets are fired from Gaza, terrorising children and families. She also presumably is not referring to Israeli civilians killed by Palestinian terror, but only to tragic incidents when Palestinian civilians mingled with militants are inevitably wounded or killed through Israel’s response to Palestinian acts of aggression. Again, she removes context and logic to make her argument. 

Corrupt leadership

SA’s position seems contradictory and confused. The minister speaks of SA’s support for a “two-state solution and an agreed peace process aimed at ensuring two coexisting, viable states, side by side”. This in itself is a reasonable position that many countries and people take. Pandor, however, supports the “return of refugees”, an issue that would immediately frustrate the realisation of the two-state scenario of a Jewish and a Palestinian state.

The minister ended her speech by saying the “people of Palestine require action”. This is absolutely correct, but not by her reasoning. The Palestinian people require freedom from bad and corrupt leadership, a change of mindset from hatred and destruction to acceptance and tolerance, and a realisation that their predicament is the outcome of decades of refusing to live in peace with a Jewish state in their midst. 

SA could have given an entirely different speech at the UN Security Council. The country could have encouraged the Palestinians to focus on nation-building efforts, to put down their weapons and extend their hands in peace. The minister could have recalled Nelson Mandela’s position, which showed an understanding for Israel’s security challenges and right to live in peace with its Palestinian neighbour.

SA should realise that being pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, all Brics countries — except SA — take this joint position.

SA still has time to modify her foreign policy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, support both sides, play the peacemaker and mediate solutions to the conflict. That is the kind of international political leadership this country needs and is capable of delivering.

• Polovin is national chair of the SA Zionist Federation.

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