THE South African government says Israel is ignoring the order of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to prevent genocide in Gaza.
Pretoria has urged the international community to take action to stop it.
South Africa had done what it could to stop the killing in Gaza by referring Israel to the ICJ and it was now up to others to take up the cause, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“I do believe the rulings of the court have been ignored by Israel. Hundreds of people have been killed in the past three or four days. And clearly Israel believes it has licence to do as it wishes. So the world has to reflect … what do we do to stop such acts occurring not just with Israel but any party in the world?” Pandor said.
She said Israel’s recent attacks on hospitals in particular “totally go against the grain of the ICJ ruling and the provisions of the Genocide Convention”.
Pandor suggested that one remedy would be for the UN Security Council to be reformed to give it the power to enforce peace and not just monitor peace agreements.
“I believe South Africa has done what it can, and now the global community must answer the question: do these conventions mean anything? Or do we now have a world in which there is open licence where you can act as you will against any vulnerable group?”
Nonetheless, South Africa would continue to mobilise international support for Palestine aimed at protecting its people, but particularly at trying to ensure negotiations for a two-state solution, she said.
She noted that the ICJ had ordered Israel to report back to the court in a month on its implementation of the court orders (such as preventing genocide in Gaza and ensuring basic services and humanitarian aid). South Africa would wait to see what Israel reported and then submit its own commentary “of what we have seen since the ICJ ruling”.
Pandor said South Africa would mobilise support from its own resources and from other countries, especially in the Global South, to compensate UNRWA for the suspension of support from some Western countries because of the accusation.
Pandor called these suspensions “collective punishment”, noting that UNRWA had suspended the accused staffers and was investigating the allegations.
She also revealed that while she was in The Hague for the ICJ case, she had also met International Criminal Court (ICC) president Piotr Hofmański and prosecutor Karim Khan “to alert them of our concern about the slow pace of action on matters we referred to them as urgent”.
She was referring to South Africa joining several other states in referring the situation in Palestine to the ICC in November last year.
She said the prosecutor assured them that the matter was in hand and was being looked at by his office.
But Pandor said she didn’t think the prosecutor had answered her sufficiently on her question on “why he was able to issue an arrest warrant for Mr Putin and was unable to do so for the prime minister of Israel. He couldn’t answer and did not answer that question.”
However, she said, he indicated that the investigations were still under way and until they were concluded, he couldn’t answer.
Pandor also denied allegations in the public domain that Hamas had financed South Africa’s legal challenge to Israel at the ICJ. She said she hadn’t checked with the ANC on whether Iran was providing it with finance, as has also been rumoured.
She said she had not spoken to Hamas since her phone call with the leader Ismail Haniyeh last October which had attracted so much criticism. But she said that she had spoken to some colleagues who had direct contact with Hamas “who continue to discuss the release of hostages – but a ceasefire is critical for that to happen”.
Pandor brushed off the decisions by the Israeli airline El Al to suspend flights to South Africa and of some Israeli supermarkets to stop buying South African fruit, because of South Africa’s ICJ action. She said she didn’t think El Al provided a major airline service to SA anyway.
South Africa had to protect its national interest. “But the concern about the national interest must not make us a partner to atrocity,” she said.
Pandor said South Africa would look to other countries, especially in the Gulf and Asia, to replace the market lost in Israel. This should include growing its halaal food exports.
On the next steps in the ICJ case, Pandor said South Africa expected other countries to submit papers formally to the ICJ intervening on South Africa’s side as friends of the court when it deliberated on the substantial question of whether Israel had committed genocide in Gaza.
She said some countries had confirmed to her that they would intervene, but she didn’t want to name them until they made the announcement themselves.
Zane Dangor, director-general of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, said that over the next couple of days, the registrar of the ICJ would call in the South African and Israeli lawyers to outline the time frame for filing papers on the merits of the case.
He said South Africa hoped that it would take no more than six months for both sides to file those papers, but that it was possible it might take only three months. These would just be the first steps in a very long process.
Pandor noted that despite the US’s prior rejection of South Africa’s case against the ICJ as “baseless” and “without merit”, the US had said after the ICJ ruling that the ruling reflected positions expressed by President Joe Biden on a ceasefire. “So it was no longer meritless,” Pandor said.
She said that when she spoke to Secretary of State Antony Blinken the day before the ICJ ruling, “he did re-emphasise their strong belief that a ceasefire is necessary. But to them, it’s a temporary ceasefire for humanitarian purposes, not a permanent end.
“He also stressed that America will work hard at the two-state solution.”
On the state of diplomatic relations with Israel, Pandor said the Cabinet still had to reflect upon the final closure of the embassy in Israel following a parliamentary resolution, which the ANC supported last year, that the government should sever relations with Israel.
She recalled that South Africa had withdrawn its ambassador from Israel (in 2018) and then, after the killing of thousands of people in Gaza, had closed the embassy “until we have visible signs that action is being taken towards ending the killings”.
Image (Naledi Pandor- Dirco minister, believes it’s now up to the international community to take action on the International Court of Justice order against Israel).