South Africa, the first African country to push for a compelling genocide accusation case against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As the developments at the Gaza Strip show, it has taken on the genocide case triggered by a disproportionate military response or the high number of Palestinian casualties. It has thus become the first, in the world’s rating, to file a lawsuit against Israel for allegedly violating the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention) at the UN International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. But the ICJ hearing took place in January, the verdict would later be delivered. The court’s rulings are binding; however, the authority has no mechanism to enforce them.
South Africa has demanded precautionary measures be taken to protect Palestinians from further, grave and irreparable violations of their rights and to ensure Israel’s compliance with its obligations under the convention. Backed by more than 30 countries around the world, President Cyril Ramaphosa has allegedly accused Israel of genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza. Netanyahu brushed aside South Africa’s accusations that Israel was committing reckless genocide in the Gaza Strip, calling them out for hypocrisy and saying that his country would continue “fighting terrorists and lies” until the bitter end.
The International Court of Justice, situated in the Peace Palace, held its hearings into South Africa’s genocide allegations against Israel for two days, January 11-12. Established in 1945, ICJ is the only international court that settles disputes between the 193 UN Member States. This means that it makes an important contribution to global peace and security, providing a way for countries to resolve issues without resorting to conflict. According to description on its website, the Court is composed of 15 judges, all of whom are elected to nine-year terms of office by the UN General Assembly and Security Council.
Since October 7, the beginning of Palestine-Israel conflict, according United Nations’ report, more than 23,000 Palestinians have been indiscriminately killed, approximately 60,000 wounded while thousands civilians including families displaced – the displacement about 85% of Palestinians in the Gaza. These, at least, points to South Africa’s decision to turn to the world tribunal after accusing Israel of violating its obligations under the Genocide Convention. Laying out their case, South Africa indicated that Israel has demonstrated a “pattern of genocidal conduct” since launching its full-scale war in Gaza, the 365 square kilometre strip of land it has occupied since 1967. “This killing is nothing short of destruction of Palestinian life. It is inflicted deliberately, no-one is spared, not even newborn babies,” the court heard.
During the fourth quarter of 2023, South Africa rose against the African Union (AU), the continental organization that seeks to unite African countries under its ambrella. South Africa critically questioned the AU leadership, perspectives on the continent’s evolving steadfast sense of identity for multi-polarity and over granting observer’s status to Israel, to be part of the organization headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Without fear, South African leadership and the Foreign Affairs and Integration Ministry threaded phrases absolutely critical over Israel’s diplomatic status at the African Union.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry had expressed anger, further reprimanded after the position was nullified at the African Union. In connection with the current Palestine-Israeli conflict, South Africa has also recalled his ambassador from Tel Aviv, capital of Israel. Arab Al-Jazeera questioned in its article report ‘Why is Africa divided on supporting Palestine?’ and added that Israel has made deep inroads into a continent traditionally sympathetic to Palestine. But Israel’s gains have limits too.
Kenyan President William Ruto took to X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “Kenya joins the rest of the world in solidarity with the State of Israel and unequivocally condemns terrorism and attacks on innocent civilians in the country,” he wrote. “There exists no justification whatsoever for terrorism, which constitutes a serious threat to international peace and security. The international community must mobilise to bring the perpetrators, organisers, financiers, sponsors, supporters and enablers of these reprehensible criminal acts of terrorism to account and speedily bring them to justice.”
According to an official report posted to its website says Israel’s observer status was “suspended” at the African Union. It highlighted unilateral 2021 decision by Mahamat to give Israel observer status, triggering protests by several member states. Israel obtained observer status after two decades of diplomatic efforts. The South African government said the AU’s decision to award Israel the status was “even more shocking in a year in which the oppressed people of Palestine were hounded by destructive bombardments and continued illegal settlements of the land.”
Later, the African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Mahamat Faki, while expressing concern over the violence, blamed the “denial of the fundamental rights of the Palestinians” and called for a two-state solution. But reports further indicated that Kenya, Zambia, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a few others have aligned with Israel’s position. So why is a continent that suffered the worst ravages of colonialism and racism for centuries and that has historically, for the most part, supported Palestine, split now?
The basic question is what South Africa and Russia share in common over the Palestine-Israeli conflict? From another perpective, South Africa and Russia, both members of BRICS, an information association portraying itself as representing the global majority to primarily rise against rules-based order and western hegemony. With diverse strengths and wide perspectives, BRICS claims to lead the creating of multipolar order, a fair system whereby Global South developing countries have equal participation and champion their own development.
Arguments and debates are abound among experts. Some asserted that both Tel Aviv and Washington have to dismiss Pretoria’s position as groundless, while others described its hypocritical approach in its policy. Researchers also pointed to Pretoria’s handling of the previous ICJ arrest warrant that was issued for President Vladimir Putin, and now Pretoria is against similar crimes (illegal military invasion and its associated atrocities) allegedly committed by Israel.
As Arab Al-Jazeera wrote back in July 2022, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor called on the United Nations to declare Israel an “apartheid state”. Amid Russia’s war on Ukraine, as Western pressure grew on South Africa and other nations in Africa and Asia to condemn Moscow’s actions, Pandor pushed back, asking why Western capitals weren’t willing to apply the same principles of international law when it came to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.
For almost two years, Ukraine has been on the front line to defend its sovereignty and ensure the security of Europe, so also Palestine looking to establish its own territorial sovereignty these several decades. Without much doubts, South Africa has displayed its toughest bravery and its genocide accusation shows a crucial step towards upholding international justice and bringing accountability to actions to save humanity.
The pertinent question still is what South Africa and Russia share in common over the Palestine-Israeli conflict? Has South Africa raised the issue of genocide in Russia-Ukraine conflict at the ICJ in The Hague? South Africa backs the Palestinian cause, with formal diplomatic relations established in 1995, a year after the end of apartheid. It downgraded its embassy in Tel Aviv to a liaison office in 2019. South African authorities argued and compared that question with apartheid system, waged attacks on Israel. There is another obvious public perception and matter of opinion, that South Africa has exposed its weakness over similar wider spectrum of crimes it can investigate, and conflicts that fragmented the people, problems of inhuman atrocities happening across Africa.
Russia and Israel are strengthening their bilateral relations. The latest development, on December 28, 2023, Russian Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov at a meeting with newly appointed Israeli Ambassador Simone Halperin, who presented copies of her credentials, stressed the importance of continuing active work in all areas of bilateral cooperation, despite the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, and specifically between Palestine and Israel. An in-depth exchange of views in the region, Bogdanov, however, reaffirmed the principled position on the need for an immediate cessation to the hostilities, and the establishment of a broad dialogue to ensure territorial integrity and sovereignty.
For many years, Soviet Union (now Russia) and Israel have had chequered relations. Russia is represented in Israel through an embassy in Tel Aviv and a consulate in Haifa. Following the 2022 Russia’s ‘special military operation’ in neighbouring Ukraine, Russia-Israeli relations took a downturn during Yair Lapid’s tenure as Prime Minister of Israel.
At the present stage, relations has somehow improved after Netanyahu’s return as Prime Minister, although cooler than they were before the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Unlike many Western countries, Israel has maintained relations with the Kremlin, categorically refused to impose sanctions against Russia, and turned its back to repeated calls to send defensive weaponry to Ukraine.
We have to understand that the arrival of the newly appointed Israeli Ambassador Simone Halperin to Moscow indicates Russia has arguable support for Israel. And Kremlin takes several reasons into account when dealing with the current Palestine-Israeli conflict. The Russian language is the third-most widely spoken first language in Israel after Hebrew and Arabic.
Reports confirm that Israel has the third-largest number of Russian speakers outside of the post-Soviet states and the highest as a proportion of the total population. In 2017, for instance, it was estimated that 1.5 million Israelis could speak Russian, which would amount to 17.25% of Israel’s population. Over 100,000 Israeli citizens live in Russia, with 80,000 of them living in Moscow, while hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens live in Israel, according to website reports, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In January 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Israel for a one-day visit for the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, while in December the same year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov praised the 2020 normalization of relations between Israel and several Arab states, describing it as a “positive phenomenon” during his visit there.
Russia’s MFA plans to open consular offices in West Jerusalem. Israel became, in recent years, a destination for Russian tourists. Besides tourism, both have mutual agreements including collaboration on nuclear technology, industry, education and culture. Israel and Russia signed the Space Co-operation Agreement. The framework agreement is meant to develop joint research programs and other collaborations in areas like astrophysical and planetary research, space biology and medicine, navigational satellites and launching services and technology.
On 28 December 2023, Lavrov praised Netanyahu for not criticizing Russia in public statements. Lavrov said that Russia’s goals of “demilitarization” and “denazification” in Ukraine were similar to Israel’s stated goals of defeating Hamas and extremism in Gaza.
Excerpts from the briefing held on January 12, 2024, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova expressed absolute regret over the massive civilian casualties in the current escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. “Russia proceeds from the unacceptability of targeted violence against civilians and the deliberate destruction of medical facilities and other civilian infrastructure. Our country calls for strict compliance with international law, an immediate ceasefire in accordance with the decisions of the Security Council and the UN General Assembly,” argued Zakharova, while she closed her eyes on the consequences of the Russia-Ukraine conflict which began 24th February 2022.
China and South Africa (on an informal association of BRICS platform committed to reshaping the global peace and security architecture) and a few other countries, during the period of the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine, submitted peace proposals and even requested for a ceasefire and further asked Russia and Ukraine to resort to diplomatic mechanism and dialogue.
Understandably, China, Russia and South Africa are BRICS members, though. BRICS members share common aspirations and have similar perspectives on issues on global stage. It was very noticeable that Russia underestimated those peace initiatives put forward by China and South Africa. The geopolitical implications of the Russia-Ukraine crisis is quite deep-seated and arguable. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, after the three-hour meeting, the African’s peace plan consisted of ten (10) elements, but “was not formulated on paper.” He further underlined that “Russia can’t give up goals of its special military operation in Ukraine.” Similarly, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov added in stern remarks: “The peace initiative proposed by African countries is very difficult to implement, difficult to compare positions.”
Global leaders are now struggling to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict which began October 7. Worth restating here that Israel has outright been accused of war crimes and “genocide” in the Palestinian territory. These followed Russia’s ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine late February 2022, with similar comprehensive consequences – killing of thousands of civilians including children, many more thousands were displaced and indiscriminate destruction of infrastructure.
Notwithstanding here, Zakharova suggested “the resumption of direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations with a sustainable settlement based on the principle of two states living in peace and security.” In this regard, she explained that Russia’s officialdom understands the motives for South Africa’s appeal to the International Court of Justice.
She, however, reminded using historical background by stating that “the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted in 1948 with the aim of preventing the repetition of the atrocities of the Nazi regimes, is designed to protect humanity from the most terrible international crime. Charges of violating it are extremely serious.”
“We hope that the International Court of Justice, as the main judicial body of the UN, will demonstrate objectivity and impartiality. It is important that legal proceedings do not aggravate the conflict, but contribute to the achievement of a Palestinian-Israeli settlement on a generally recognized international legal basis,” concluded Zakharova.
Without dealing with the necessary details over attempts to find permanent solution to Palestine-Israeli conflict, back in June 2010 when in Jerusalem, as part of a Middle East tour, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov was received by President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, held talks with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman, and met with Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni.
The main issue here was development of Russian-Israeli relations, put an ascent on their mutual interest in building partnerships in trade, economic, financial and investment fields, based on the machinery of the specialized intergovernmental commission and direct contacts between the business communities, referring in particular to the task of implementing high tech and science intensive projects, which the agreement on cooperation in the field of industrial research and development, signed in March that year, was designed to encourage.
In an exchange of views on Palestine-Israeli proximity talks, the Russian minister emphasized the importance for the parties in carrying out contacts in this format to pay appropriate attention to prospects for establishing a direct dialogue in line with the recommendations set forth in the final statement of the Moscow meeting of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators on March 19, 2010.
Lavrov confirmed Russia’s readiness to continue efforts to promote a just and comprehensive Middle East settlement, the pivotal element of which would be the solution to the Palestine problem on a two-state basis envisioning an independent and viable Palestinian state coexisting with Israel in peace and security. There was emphasized on the Russian side the necessity of expeditiously lifting Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip in order to defuse tensions in the region and alleviate the socioeconomic and humanitarian plight of the people of that Palestinian territory.
Late December, Putin sent a message of congratulations to Benjamin Netanyahu on being sworn in as Prime Minister of the State of Israel. The message reads, in part: “Russia very much appreciates your personal long-term contributions to the strengthening of friendly relations between our countries. I hope that the new government under your leadership will continue the policy of developing constructive Russian-Israeli cooperation in all areas for the benefit of our peoples and in the interests of ensuring peace and security in the Middle East.”
In a nutshell, Russia has appreciable multifaceted relations with Israel these several years, just as it has with South Africa. But what seems to be important for the Kremlin is readiness to provide possible assistance to alleviate the suffering of civilians and de-escalate the conflict. In the Kremlin, President Vladimir Putin’s comments on Palestine-Israeli was just that in addition to reaffirm its principled position on the essence to avoid such grave consequences for the civilian population while countering terrorist threats. In short, there would not be any attempt, not even the least sign in the near future, to sever decades-old relations between Israel and Russia.
Source: Thepressradio.com||Kestér Kenn Klomegâh