/ 9 October 2023

South Africa willing to facilitate peace in Israel-Hamas war

Palestinian Gaza Israel Conflict
Palestinians inspect a mosque destroyed in Israeli strikes on Gaza City's Shati refugee camp early on October 9, 2023. The Israeli army said it hit more than 500 targets in the Gaza Strip in overnight strikes, as the death toll from its war with Palestinian militants surged above 1,100. (Photo by Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The South African government has said that it is willing to step in and mediate peace in the Israel-Hamas war which broke out at the weekend and is ravaging Gaza. 

Zane Dangor, international relations and cooperation director general, said the United Nations Security Council should call for an immediate ceasefire and cessation of hostilities.

“At the very least, both Palestinian armed groups and the Israelis should commit not to target noncombatants. Peace, which is the premise of ending occupation, should be pursued as a matter of urgency,” he said. 

The 15 security council member states held an urgent meeting on Sunday but were unable to agree on a statement. The US, an ally of Israel, has called for the council to condemn Palestinian resistance group Hamas, which is backed by Iran, another member of the council.

Iran was recently added to the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) bloc when it announced an expansion of its membership during a summit held in South Africa. 

South Africa’s relationship with the US has been under strain over Russia’s war in Ukraine, putting at risk its duty-free export access to the US under the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

Pretoria and Washington have also been at opposing ends in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which has lasted for more than five decades. 

South Africa has in the past pledged support for Palestine, equating Israel’s occupation of its land to apartheid, while the US has refused to condemn the occupation of Palestine.  

Dangor said the message South Africa had consistently sent to the US was that “all players in the international sphere stand back from any statements that escalate this because the escalation of this conflict in the context of Gaza, which is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, is going to result in massive civilian death”.

Asked whether Pretoria was concerned that the Israeli-Hamas war would affect South Africa’s relations with the US, Dangor said it would not. He said South Africa had tabled its views on Israel and Palestine at various meetings with the US. 

“We do have divergent views on this and it shouldn’t impact on the relationship. What we would like is to engage more fully with other players in the international space to end this occupation. You are dealing with the most powerful armies in the region if not the world who are occupying people with limited access to arms. If we are asked to step in, we will step in,” he said.

“There have been 56 years of a Middle East peace process which has really not worked and, in most cases, people thought of it as a continued annexation of land. What we really need is a credible peace process and if we can be part of that, we will.

“But a credible peace process in this context of this level of occupation that lasted for decades really requires the UN to step up, convene this in the context of the UN dealing with colonialism, the apartheid issues, so that we have a mediated approach to this that is governed by international law. South Africa will play its part but we really think the UN should step up.”

Pretoria called for an immediate ceasefire and peace after Hamas launched a surprise attack, firing about 5 000 rockets into Israel on Saturday as part of “Operation al-Aqsa Flood”. The operation was launched against Israel after a war in 2021, which lasted 11 days.

Mohammad Deif, Hamas’s military commander, said: “We warned the enemy not to continue their aggression against the al-Aqsa mosque … The age of the enemy’s aggression without a response is over. I call on Palestinians everywhere in the West Bank and within the Green Line to launch an attack without restraint. Go to all the streets. I call on Muslims everywhere to launch an attack.”

South African political parties, unions and NGOs have shared their views on the situation.

The Palestine Solidarity Alliance defended Hamas’s actions as an “expected human response”.  

“The invasion into apartheid Israel is an encouraging well-orchestrated Palestinian military campaign which reaffirms the right of an occupied nation to resist its occupier and coloniser,” it said.

The Democratic Alliance said it condemned the “senseless violence and all acts of terror against innocent civilians, women and children and calls for aggressors to this conflict to immediately withdraw”.

African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe said he rejected the comparison of the Israeli-Palestine conflict to South Africa’s apartheid history.

“Except for security concerns, there is no place in Israel that Palestinians are not allowed to access as it happened in apartheid South Africa. There are no amenities or buildings, schools or universities that are designated for Jewish use only as happened in South Africa during apartheid,” he said.

The South African Federation of Trade Unions said it was repulsed by the attitude of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to wage war against Hamas.

“The promise for a merciless war against resistance fighters and the ordering of Palestinian citizens of Gaza to leave by … Netanyahu, as he prepares for the ‘vengeance’ means nothing but the continuation of catastrophic attacks on the Palestinians, violations of human rights, and sheer impunity for Israel forces,” it said.

Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, has announced a “complete siege” of Gaza, saying authorities would cut off electricity and block the entry of food and fuel.