JOHANNESBURG. – South Africa’s International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has announced that the country will not reinstate its ambassador to Israel – for now.
Ambassador Sisa Ngombane was withdrawn on May 14 following the violence in Gaza – which left 60 Palestinians dead. However, soon afterwards, it was discovered that 55 of the 60 people killed were Hamas members or terrorists.
Speaking to local media last week, Minister Sisulu said during a briefing: “I’m very glad that I recalled the ambassador, because we (cannot stay) in the situation that we are at now. It’s been a violation that has been going on for a long time, and we can’t be looking away,” Sisulu said.
“We are holding back our ambassador until we are certain that we are making headway” in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“For us, this is an unacceptable situation, completely unacceptable.”
Clarifying her remarks on Sunday night, Minister Sisulu said: “I’m not going to send him back until we find a complete resolution. I called him back because I wanted to express my disgust about what’s happening in Gaza,” she told the eNCA television news program The Fix.
“South Africa is one of those countries that has been very involved in trying to find a peaceful solution to the problems… between Israel and Palestine. We are not going to let go or step back – we have fought alongside the Palestinians in their struggle for self-determination,” the minister said. “We will hold him until we can find a way forward in the (Israeli-Palestinian) conflict.”
Asked if it wasn’t better to have someone there speaking for South Africa than not have anyone there at all, Minister Sisulu responded: “What would (be) the point of having called him back if we send him back now? We want some answers and we would like some commitment from the Israeli government. It can’t just (remain) a region where one side is given carte blanche to do whatever it wants and the other is left to suffer the same fate that many of us (black South Africans during apartheid) may have suffered.”
She added that recalling the ambassador does not resolve the issue. “The situation continued even (when) our ambassador was in Israel – he was completely unable to do anything about that matter.”
In conclusion, Minister Sisulu said, “We are purely expressing our support for the people who are suffering in the Middle East. It is an ethical decision; it is a responsibility that we as South Africans owe to the people of the Middle East (Palestinians). We’ve been there – not on one side or the other, but in trying to create peace in that area. We cannot standby – our morality will not allow it.”
A decision by the South African Department of International Relations is still pending regarding whether or not the government will downgrade its embassy in Tel Aviv to a liaison office – a resolution that was taken during the ruling party’s national conference last December.
In response to the recall on May 14, South African Jewry reacted with shock and dismay.
At the time, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the South African Zionist Federation said: “The South African government’s decision to withdraw the South African ambassador from Israel is outrageous and displays gross double-standards against the Jewish state.
“While we, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and the SA Zionist Federation, regret the loss of life of civilians, we recognise that Israel as a sovereign state has the right to defend its own border and its own citizens. Israel is facing a real danger with the incitement by Hamas of its own population to storm the security fence and attack Israeli civilians.”
The two organisations emphasised that “by withdrawing its ambassador, South Africa is essentially walking away from playing any meaningful role in finding a sorely needed resolution to the conflict.” – Jerusalem Post