The Democratic Alliance (DA) has slammed the government’s decision to withdraw the South African ambassador to Israel, making it the first major opposition party in South Africa to criticise the move.
Stevens Mokgalapa, the DA’s shadow minister of international relations, condemned the killing of 55 Palestinians by the Israeli military, but added that South Africa made a mistake in recalling ambassador Sisa Ngombane.
“The DA is disappointed that the South African government has chosen to withdraw our ambassador to Israel precisely at a time when South Africa should be showing leadership,” Mokgalapa said in a statement on Tuesday.
“This is a departure of the South African government position of a two-state solution. This position has also been adopted by the South African Parliament, any change in this position would need to be considered and decided on by Parliament. This has not taken place,” he continued.
On Monday, 55 Palestinians were shot dead and 2 400 injured after Israeli forced fired live ammunition in Gaza during a protest against the inauguration of the United States embassy in Jerusalem. Shortly after the killings, the United States opened its embassy in Jerusalem as a formal recognition of the city as the Israeli capital. The number of the deceased is expected to rise.
The massacre took place in the run up to the day of the Nakba, which is marked on May 15 — the day the Israeli occupation was established in 1948. Tuesday marks 70 years since that day when more than 700 000 Palestinians fled from the region.
In South Africa, solidarity protests on May 15 have become an annual commemoration of the Nakba. The South African government has taken the position that a two-state solution will return peace to the region, but the ANC, at its elective conference in 2017, also adopted a resolution to downgrade the South African embassy in Israel.
On Monday night, following reports of the killings, the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) announced that it had withdrawn Ngombane.
“Given the indiscriminate and grave manner of the latest Israeli attack, the South African government has taken a decision to recall Ambassador Sisa Ngombane with immediate effect until further notice,” the statement reads.
International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu confirmed on Tuesday that the decision had been made following a meeting between her and President Cyril Ramaphosa on the issue.
But Mokgalapa said that the move will impede on South Africa’s role as a “mediator” between the Palestinians and Israelis.
“It is crucial that South Africa remains a mediator and a special envoy in this conflict, advocating for a two-state solution so that the violence in the Middle East can come to an end,” he said.“The South African government needs to bring the decision to withdraw the ambassador to Parliament for ratification. Anything short of this can be viewed as abrogating our responsibility in this conflict.”
The DA has previously drawn skepticism and criticism over its ties to Israel. In January 2017 images of party leader Mmusi Maimane shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were shared on social media. The party defended Maimane’s visit, saying he was there to learn about issues in the region.
Solidarity marches are set to take place in Johannesburg and Cape Town to support Palestinian protests against Israel.