Palestinians from across the political spectrum have hailed the decision by South Africa's ruling party the African National Congress, ANC, to downgrade ties with the Israeli government in protest of the decades-long occupation of Palestine.
The decision to demote the South African embassy in Israel to the level of a liaison office will mean that the country won't have full diplomatic status in Israel, according to ANC officials who made the decision at a major policy conference in Johannesburg earlier this week.
The Oliver Tambo Resolution — named in honor of anti-apartheid hero and ANC president from 1967 to 1991 — was meant to display the party's “unwavering and steadfast commitment for the struggle” of the people of Palestine while condemning Tel Aviv's wanton disregard for international law, continued illegal occupation of Palestinian land and egregious abuses of the Palestinian people's human rights.
“Yesterday’s resolution is the strongest and clearest position taken by the ANC in our history as a governing party” regarding the occupation of Palestine, wrote the ANC's Western Cape branch that recommended the resolution, according to Ma'an News Agency. “We believe that those of us calling for downgrades, sanctions and other actions against apartheid Israel and other oppressive regimes are following in (Tambo’s) footsteps.”
In a press release Saturday, spokesman for Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qasem hailed the step and called for the continuation of pressure on the Israelis to recognize the rights of the Palestinian people.
Palestinian Ambassador to South Africa Hashem Dajani likewise greeted the decision as a needed recognition of Palestinian rights to self-determination and statehood and an "advanced move to put pressure on the apartheid government of Israel in order to end the occupation of the state of Palestine."
South Africa's solidarity with the Palestinian people has deep roots, with South Africa's apartheid regime mirroring the repressive facets of the Israeli settler-colonial project. During the period of white rule in South Africa, racial segregation and discrimination toward Black South Africans were codified in law by the ruling minority of Dutch Afrikaners, whose repressive government enjoyed a clandestine strategic relationship with Tel Aviv.
Late ANC leader and South African President Nelson Mandela famously said in 1997 that “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
South African Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu likewise noted that his 2002 trip to Palestine served as a powerful reminder of “so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa ... the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.”
The ANC international relations committee also warned that Tel Aviv is continuing its efforts to “galvanize support from Africa and elsewhere with a view to undermine the Palestinian cause,” according to Times of Israel, and “shall engage progressive forces on the continent on the need to develop a common position and posture in preparation for the upcoming Israeli-Africa Summit scheduled for October 2017 in Togo,” when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to visit Africa later this year.