No cabinet decision to 'close' Israeli embassy, says Ntshavheni

Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni. File image
Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni. File image
Image: GCIS

Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni has confirmed there is no cabinet decision yet to “close” the Israeli embassy in South Africa.

“There is no decision to close the embassy of Israel from the cabinet. We have gone to the ICC [International Criminal Court] as part of the state parties who have referred the matter there,” Ntshavheni told journalists on Monday.

This is despite the ANC announcing last week it would support an EFF motion in parliament that called for the closure of the embassy and suspension of diplomatic relations.

Hours before the debate on Thursday, the ANC said it would agree to the motion “which calls upon the government to close the Israel embassy in South Africa and suspend all diplomatic relations with Israel until Israel agrees to a ceasefire and commits to binding UN-facilitated negotiations whose outcome must be a just, sustainable and lasting peace”.

MPs will vote on the matter on Tuesday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced last week South Africa would refer Israel to the ICC for a “war crime investigation”.

Ntshavheni reiterated the cabinet’s concern about the “atrocities of the Israeli government against the people of Palestine, including deliberate attacks on the UN School in Gaza and the massacre of hundreds of children who had sought refuge at the school, in addition to the continued attacks on hospital staff, patients and hospital infrastructure”. 

“It is because of these continued atrocities that are being committed with impunity by the Israeli government, with the support and protection of powerful countries, that on November 17 South Africa, with the Comoros, Djibouti, Bolivia and Bangladesh, jointly referred the situation in Palestine and Israel to the ICC.

“While the Palestinian Authority did ask the ICC to investigate crimes under the court’s jurisdiction in 2018, South Africa believes the current atrocities, particularly in Gaza, need renewed attention with the full backing of state parties,” she said.

The South African ambassador in The Hague, Vusi Madonsela, delivered the referral which asked the ICC to investigate the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide to hold those responsible accountable.

“Given that much of the global community are witnessing the commission of these crimes in real time, including statements of genocidal intent by many Israeli leaders, we expect warrants of arrests for these leaders, including Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, will be issued shortly.”

Ntshavheni said the ICC referral was the last opportunity for the court to prove itself.

“When we made a referral, we are giving the last opportunity to prove themselves to this country and the rest of the world that they are an objective organisation. Amnesty International once came out and said the ICC doesn’t play an objective role or a neutral role and that it is biased. It is high time they come and prove themselves.”

The court was quick to issue an arrest warrant against Russian president Vladimir Putin but its conduct regarding the conflict, atrocities and alleged genocide being committed against the Palestinians was not worthy of such an institution, she said.

South Africa expects international warrants of arrest to be issued by the time the conference of parties meets in mid-December in New York. Failure to do so would be indicative of a lack of will to act by the ICC, a failure of the global system of good governance and the need to establish a new system, she said.

On November 1, the cabinet decided to recall its diplomats from Israel for engagement. 

This was followed by a démarche of Israeli ambassador Eliav Belotserkovsky by the international relations and co-operation department over his conduct relating to the war, said the government at the time.

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