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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 10/6/19

The Africa-Palestine Conference: Why South Africa Must Lead the Way

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The main, obvious conclusion from all of these meetings and interactions is that South Africans are serious about their solidarity with Palestine, and that they see themselves as partners in the Palestinian struggle for justice and peace.

On September 16, I visited South Africa, a country where many Palestinians have always felt welcomed, if not overwhelmed by the degree of genuine and meaningful solidarity.

While having the honor to address many audiences in six, major cities, I have also learned a great deal. An important and sobering lesson is that while apartheid laws can be dismissed in a day, economic apartheid and massive inequality can linger on for many years. Thanks to my interactions with many South African intellectuals, activists and ordinary folk, I learned not to romanticize the South African struggle, a crucial lesson for those of us fighting to end Israeli apartheid in Palestine.

My hosts at the Afro-Middle East Center ensured that I met with diverse audiences, including top members of the African National Congress, the leadership of the country's two, major union groups, anti-apartheid scholars and activists, and a large number of students and other people throughout the country.

The main, obvious conclusion from all of these meetings and interactions is that South Africans are serious about their solidarity with Palestine, and that they see themselves as partners in the Palestinian struggle for justice and peace.

While South Africans are always ready to take their solidarity with Palestine to a whole new level, however, there is a general feeling that decisive political moves can prove costly for South Africa.

True, the South African government has taken several steps in the right direction. On May 14, 2018, Pretoria recalled its ambassador to Israel, Sisa Ngombane, to protest the killing of hundreds of unarmed protesters taking part in the Great March of Return in besieged Gaza. On April 5, 2019, it began to actively downgrade its ties with Israel, in response to a call made by the ANC leadership itself.

While these steps are significant, South Africa is yet to take the kind of action that, when combined with others measures of international solidarity, could finally force Israel to dismantle its system of Apartheid in Palestine.

The problem is not the lack of willingness nor that of diplomatic doublespeak. There is a growing, and justifiable, sense that Arab governments no longer see the liberation of Palestine as a common objective. While the Arab peoples remain committed in their support of Palestinians, Arab governments have fallen into warring camps and political divisions.

Yet, a top ANC leader told me that South Africa's policy regarding Palestine is guided by the agendas of the Arab League and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Sadly, neither the Arab League nor the PLO are serving the roles they were entrusted with decades ago. The former is marred in divisions, and the latter has been effectively replaced by the provisional, factional Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

Using ineffectual organizations as a legal and moral frame of reference is hurting South Africa's chances of converting its solidarity with Palestine into tangible political assets.

The other dilemma is that the African continent itself is no longer united regarding Palestine. Israel has successively driven a wedge between African countries, which, at one point, were united in their unconditional support of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli military occupation and Apartheid.

Israel's successes in Africa, especially through the penetration of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), have made Tel Aviv a political player on the African continent. Boosted by the welcome he received from various African leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had hoped to hold the Israel-Africa Summit in October 2017. Thanks to the efforts of African countries like South Africa and Algeria, the conference was postponed.

If Israel continues to score political victories while facing little resistance, however, it will eventually dominate the African continent. The absurdity of this matter goes beyond the struggle in Palestine. A continent that was ravaged by colonialism, racism and apartheid should not embrace the likes of Israel, the exemplification of the very ills that have cost Africa so dearly for hundreds of years.

In fact, the issue of solidarity with Palestine, and the pressing need to block Israel's scourges in Africa, are intrinsically linked. In this very link, South Africa can find a way to reclaim its natural role as a vanguard against racism and apartheid everywhere.

My suggestion to the ANC is that South Africa should update its frame of reference, moving away from tired cliche's of a defunct, two-state solution and such, to a whole new way of thinking. And it should not go about doing it alone; all of Africa and all Palestinians should be part of this effort.

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Ramzy Baroud is the Managing Editor of Middle East Eye. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold (more...)
 

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