South Africa shames other nations at UN over Palestine inaction

South Africa shames other nations at UN over Palestine inaction
Comment: South Africa ended its Security Council term on a fiery note, calling out inaction and the need for UN reform, writes Suraya Dadoo.
5 min read
04 Nov, 2019
South Africa's foreign minister, Naledi Pandor slammed the UNSC for inaction on Palestine [Getty]
When South Africa was voted onto the UN Security Council for the third time as a non-permanent member last year, the country made no secret of the fact that it would use its entry into the UN organ charged with ensuring international peace and security, to advance the interests of the Global South, elevate the African agenda and the question of Palestine. 

Despite recent political and financial woes, South Africa remains a beacon of hope for so many other countries, and its democratic model means that it is taken more seriously by the Global North than other African democracies. South Africa's words matter.

The country pulls no punches when it comes to Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine. The ANC-led government has a long-standing relationship with the people of Palestine and their struggle.

In May 2018, South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel, Sisa Ngombane, following Israel's killing of over 60 Palestinian protesters during the Great Return March. Pretoria has not replaced Ngombane and the government has already 
begun the process of downgrading its embassy in Tel Aviv to a liaison office.

So, it was no surprise, then, that in her final address to the UNSC last week, during the Council's quarterly open debate on Palestine, South Africa's minister of international relations, Naledi Pandor, slammed the UNSC for its inaction on Palestine, and called its failure to end Israel's occupation of Palestine and secure Palestinian peace and freedom "a profound stain" against the mission and objectives of the United Nations. 

Consisting of five permanent members: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Pandor lambasted members for failing to implement their own resolutions, specifically Resolution 2334 of 2016 which declared Israel's settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem a "flagrant violation" of international law with "no legal validity".

South Africa pulls no punches when it comes to Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine

The resolution demands that Israel stop such activity and fulfil its obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel has not done so.

In order to repair its damaged credibility on the issue, Pandor said that the Security Council must insist on regular written reports on the implementation of its decisions and resolutions, and conduct a long-overdue field visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. "We lose credibility as an institution when words are not accompanied by action," warned Pandor.

Pandor also expressed grave concern at the continued disregard of Palestinian concerns on final status issues in the peace process such as borders, the return of refugees, the status of Jerusalem and Israel's illegal settlements.

"Clearly there is no intention to seek or achieve peace by those implementing these actions. How is it possible to believe in this Council, in peace and security in the face of such offending breaches of this Council's decisions?" Pandor asked in a fiery address, as South Africa's Security Council term ended.

In October, South Africa's ambassador to the UN, Jerry Matjila, criticised the UN for not implementing any of its 72 resolutions on Palestine since 1948.

In July, the 54 member-strong African Group, called out as "double standards" the international community overlooking Israel's consistent refusal to comply with international law and UN resolutions at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. 

Read more: Israel's settler violence reeks of international impunity

African calls for the UN to own the Palestine mess are on the mark. It was a newly-created United Nations - made up entirely of western nations and weaker states dependent on western aid - that voted 33 to 13 in favour of General Assembly Resolution 181 supporting the partition of Palestine. 

At the heart of UN inaction on Palestine is a UN Security Council that is stuck in the past and bears no resemblance to the current global landscape – politically or demographically.

UN membership has expanded dramatically since 1945, from 51 to 193 nations, and the global economy has shifted and diversified. Yet, key decisions on the world's peace and security are the de-facto domain of just five countries: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. African countries make up almost one third of UN members, yet the continent has no permanent representation at the Security Council.

In her address to the Security Council last week, Pandor said that South Africa's own liberation struggle "was advanced by United Nations action and determination to end a crime against humanity. We need similar vigorous international solidarity, indignation and commitment for Palestine." It is true that UN action played a vital role in ending apartheid in South Africa, but Pandor did not elaborate on which countries accompanied words with actions. 

Western powers initially declined to support the work of the Special Committee against Apartheid established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1962. These powerful nations, mostly former colonisers and their allies, argued that a boycott of apartheid was not necessary; they preferred "constructive engagement". It was left to Algeria, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Somalia and others from the Global South to press for international sanctions.

African calls for the UN to own the Palestine mess are on the mark

On Palestine, the United Nations has the capacity to be a very powerful tool to deliver justice for the Palestinians. However, it is difficult to achieve justice when Israel is shielded by a US veto. 

South Africa's tenure at the Security Council came in the first year of the Nelson Mandela Decade for Peace, which the UN General Assembly agreed would be from 2019 to 2028. Unless there are reforms to the Security Council, dedicating a decade to Mandela – who called the question of Palestine the "greatest moral issue of our time" - will be a weak and meaningless platitude.

Words that are not backed up by action at the UN simply indicate to Israel that it may continue with its occupation, colonialism and apartheid. Peace and justice will remain elusive for Palestine, and indeed all other oppressed and occupied people from Kashmir to Myanmar and beyond.

Suraya Dadoo is a South African writer based in Johannesburg.

Follow her on Twitter: @Suraya_Dadoo

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.