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16/05/2018 06:14 SAST | Updated 16/05/2018 09:48 SAST

'Whether Right Or Wrong, SA's Decision To Pull Its Ambassador Is A Serious One'

"The South African government does devote disproportionate attention to Israel compared to many other conflict areas in the world."

A pro-Palestinian demonstrator shouts during a protest against the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem, near the Israeli consulate in Istanbul, Turkey May 15, 2018.
Osman Orsal/ Reuters
A pro-Palestinian demonstrator shouts during a protest against the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem, near the Israeli consulate in Istanbul, Turkey May 15, 2018.

The Israel-Palestine conflict over Gaza has been on and off for decades. Recently relations between Israel and Palestine have deteriorated since U.S. President Donald Trump announced the opening of the U.S Embassy in Jerusalem. At least 58 Palestinian protestors were killed when Israeli troops opened fire in the latest incident.

HuffPost SA interviewed Steven Gruzd, Head: African Governance and Diplomacy Programme (AGDP) at the South African Institute of International Affairs on the SA's decision to pull its ambassador from Israel.

What is the SAIIA's take on the situation?

"Recalling an ambassador is one of the strongest diplomatic messages of disapproval a country can take. Relations between South Africa and Israel have been deteriorating over the last decade or more as the peace process with the Palestinians has ground to a halt. It is a serious decision either way, whether one considers it wrong or right. The pro-Palestinian lobby would see it as a victory; the Jewish community will be extremely upset with this decision."

What does SA's decision to recall the Ambassador with immediate effect have for the country in terms of foreign policy?

"It's hard to say precisely. It is sometimes practice for a reciprocal recall – Israel summoning its ambassador to South Africa back home in response. We have not yet seen such a move, and Israel would be reluctant to do so. South Africa has demonstrated its support for the Palestinians over the years, and will likely be praised by them and their supporters. One possible ramification is to sour relations with the U.S., Israel's staunchest ally, further. The Trump Administration is examining how countries respond to the embassy relocation."

What does this move mean for South Africa as it deters SA from playing an active role in finding a resolution to the conflict?

"Well, it certainly is disengaging, and this move would further disqualify it in the eyes of the Israelis from being a neutral mediator in finding an acceptable solution to all. Its previous attempts at mediating have not been fruitful – it is not a major player in the stalled negotiations and never really has been."

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies and South African Zionist Federation issued a statement where they voiced their disapproval about the government's decision to pull its ambassador out of Israel, does SA's action display 'double standards' against the Jewish state as is alluded by the two organisations?

"The South African government does devote disproportionate attention to Israel compared to many other conflict areas in the world. I think it sees its own struggle as very much akin to that of the Palestinians, and views developments in the Middle East through this prism. There has been no talk of South Africa withdrawing any ambassadors from anywhere else in the world."

What are the odds of a U.S. brokered peace between the two sides (Israel and Palestine) after this attack?

"In the short term, it's very unlikely. Emotions are high and there does not seem to be an appetite for meaningful peace talks at the moment. Time will tell if Trump can broker any sort of a deal that has eluded many before him."