Is­rael must mind its own borders

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis -

Aday af­ter 60 Pales­tini­ans were killed by the Is­raeli army, the South African gov­ern­ment re­called its am­bas­sador to Is­rael. The de­ci­sion was in protest against the “in­dis­crim­i­nate [na­ture] and grav­ity of the lat­est Is­raeli at­tack”, the depart­ment of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and co-op­er­a­tion said. South Africa was among the first states to an­nounce such a de­ci­sion and the move is seen to be in­dica­tive of a more ro­bust im­ple­men­ta­tion of South African foreign pol­icy. Although the coun­try’s sol­i­dar­ity with the Pales­tinian cause has long been es­tab­lished, the diplo­matic ties be­tween the two states have raised doubt about South Africa’s true com­mit­ment to Pales­tinian sol­i­dar­ity and a two-state so­lu­tion.

Although it is not the first time South Africa has re­called its am­bas­sador, this week’s move marked a more de­ci­sive re­sponse to Is­raeli ag­gres­sion; the de­ci­sion could not have been made lightly be­cause South Africa risks fur­ther alien­at­ing the United States gov­ern­ment and the lo­cal Is­raeli lobby.

An aca­demic, speak­ing to the Huff­in­g­ton Post this week, ar­gued that re­la­tions be­tween South Africa and Is­rael have de­te­ri­o­rated in re­cent years, in line with the Mid­dle East peace process com­ing to a halt, and the im­ple­men­ta­tion of South African pol­icy on Pales­tine and Is­rael de­serves fur­ther scru­tiny.

If any­thing, South Africa has con­tin­ued to be vo­cal about the Pales­tinian strug­gle while main­tain­ing diplo­matic ties with Is­rael. And, although the cur­rent im­passe in the peace process, ex­em­pli­fied by the US open­ing a new em­bassy in Jerusalem while Is­rael was mow­ing down peo­ple in Gaza, is cause for con­cern, it is not al­to­gether US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s do­ing.

The truth is the peace process has only ever been a ve­neer. It can’t be said to have held much prom­ise when Is­raeli set­tle­ments were ex­pand­ing in Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory, quash­ing any pos­si­bil­ity of a Pales­tinian state.

The set­tle­ments, which have been tak­ing place in the West Bank since it came un­der Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion in 1967, are a ma­jor im­ped­i­ment to peace. It is es­ti­mated that about 500 000 Is­raelis live in the set­tle­ments, of which there are about 130 scat­tered around the West Bank. About 75% of set­tlers live on or near the West Bank border with Is­rael.

In ef­fect, the set­tle­ments blur the bound­aries of any fu­ture Pales­tinian state. And that is ex­actly the point: the most hard­line set­tlers want the West Bank to be fully in­cor­po­rated into Is­rael.

The set­tle­ments and mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion re­quired to de­fend them have seen apartheid-like in­fra­struc­ture be­ing es­tab­lished. Pales­tini­ans are ex­cluded from some Is­raeli-only roads and forced to go through a num­ber of se­cu­rity check­points, for ex­am­ple. Most in­ter­na­tional lawyers be­lieve the set­tle­ments vi­o­late the Fourth Geneva Con­ven­tion, which pro­hibits the trans­fer of pop­u­la­tion into oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries but the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment dis­putes this.

It is the ex­pan­sion of set­tle­ments that con­tin­ues to in­hibit any real chance of peace and, although South Africa has ex­pressed its dis­sent about the set­tle­ments, it has con­tin­ued to main­tain diplo­matic re­la­tions with Is­rael.

This week, ex­plain­ing the killings on Mon­day, Is­rael said it had the right to pro­tect it­self and its borders. But it is the con­cept of those borders, of the pos­si­bil­ity of the borders of a Pales­tinian state, that Is­rael has flouted with its ex­pan­sion of set­tle­ments. And South Africa has been party to that.

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