Egypt, Washington, the United Nations (UN), and other stakeholders played an important role in launching a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, of a conflict that lasted for 11 days. The truce which came to be seen last week Friday, was as a result of hardworking peace advocates from around the world. South Africa continues to miss an opportunity for helping bring about peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict and the entire embattled Middle East region.

Israel has often been referred to as “apartheid Israel” by its detractors who are intentionally spreading misinformation. First and foremost, apartheid is a discriminatory kind of rule which was used in South Africa before 1994 – majority-black people were discriminated against on economic and political opportunities.

I am one of few fortunate young South Africans who visited Israel in a quest of finding my own truth. I even went to its parliament where Arab people were represented. There is no form of racism in Israel, it is purely a lie. What I was able to notice was the fundamental basis of the land. The Palestinians do not have sufficient land and this does affect their livelihoods.

While visiting the City of Ramallah, I also engaged with Palestinians who found it difficult to source water, food, or other essential goods and services. Most people in the Palestinian regions are hungry while those claiming to represent them are living large. There is a group calling itself the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, which claims to be in solidarity with Palestine. What puzzles me is that BDS is able to raise millions of rands, which they do not share with those suffering in the region; they are living large in “exile”.

Many people who understand the Israel-Palestine conflict have been calling for a two-state solution; I believe it is the most practical solution. There is no stable or sober person who could call for the annihilation of Israel; we cannot just airbrush Israel as a country and as a nation, where will we take its 8-9 million Israeli population?

Due to being defamed as an apartheid state, Israel has invested much of its resources in normalizing its relations with all Arab countries. Palestine refused to be part of the normalization process. Many countries such as Sudan, the Kingdom of Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco have normalized their relations with the Jewish state under the aegis of Washington. Egypt was one of the first Arab countries to normalize its relations with Israel.

South Africa’s political history could reshape, reimagine and redefine politics in the Middle East especially with regard to tensions that erupted between the Hamas and Israeli security forces. South Africa has taught the world that negotiations are far more productive in peacemaking than violence that leads nowhere.

Last week was very tense as the international community continued to be glued to their televisions for the latest developments in Israel.

Diplomats, countries, NGOs and other organizations released statements calling for a ceasefire while some countries were quick to brand Israel as the aggressor, irrespective of the fact that the conflict began when Hamas launched a rocket assault into Israel following a court order to evict some Palestinian families in the East of Jerusalem, due unpaid rent.

South African Jewry responded to those accusations labeling the government “one-sided”. If South Africa is to play any role in the Middle East, both parties must see her as an honest broker.

US President Joe Biden has been stressing the need and right of Israel to defend herself and her people when under attack. Hamas is a rival of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and was formed in the the 1980s. Unlike Arafat’s PLO, they do not believe that Israel has a right to exist as a country and as a nation. They are hell-bent on total extermination of Israel; there were clashes in 2008/09, 2012, and 2014.

There are countries such as the US, those of the European Union, and others who have identified Hamas as a terror organization.

Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in the year 2007. The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated territories in the world.

There has been an occupation of the West Bank by the Israeli security forces, and not all Israelis are comfortable with that decision. In his book titled Drawing Fire, Benjamin Pogrund said, “The settlers have transformed Israel; they have influence in the inner core of government, and they shape profound policy decisions for the future. Many, many millions of Shekels are devoted to them in budgets, both openly and secretly. Their existence has been made possible by military occupation”.

The political divisions in Ramallah make it difficult for the Palestinians to have vibrant representatives who will pursue their cause. There are many voices claiming to represent the Palestinians, but by and large, those claiming to be representatives are representing their own views and interests; it is not really about poor Palestinians.

Israel has shown political maturity with its single, united leadership representing the views of Israelis (Jewish, Christians, and Muslims).

There have been many attempts to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict by different political actors throughout the world. If left unresolved, it will resurface. If a lasting solution is to be found, both parties involved will ultimately have to negotiate a settlement and countries that want to help need to be unbiased.

No matter how much we want to sound revolutionary to the world, we have to strive for pragmatic policies. Israel has a right to exist, side by side with Palestine. We should encourage South Africa to take a more active role in resolving the Israeli-Palestine conflict rather than being a critic sending out statements with empty rhetoric not founded on fact.

Given its political and economic position, the US has always played a significant role in trying to find a consensus on the Israel-Palestine conflict with little success over the years. The US has not given up as they continue to seek a consensus between Israel and Palestine.

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Kenneth Mokgatlhe

Kenneth Mokgatlhe is a political and social commentator.

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