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There is urgent need to de-escalate Mideast conflict

By Gert Grobler | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-04-24 09:34
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Displaced Palestinians, who fled their homes due to Israeli strikes, wash clothes as they shelter in a UNRWA-affiliated school, in the central Gaza Strip April 23, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

In the wake of Iran's recent drone and missile strikes on Israel, there is heightened concern that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is increasingly spilling onto the world stage with deepening political polarization and global economic disruption.

Iran's mission to the United Nations issued a statement saying that Iran's military action was in response to Israel's attack on an Iranian diplomatic facility in Syria, an apparent reference to the April 1 bombing of an Iranian consulate building in Damascus.

The statement said that Iran considered the matter "concluded "after the missile and drone strikes. However, it warned that if Israel makes "another mistake", Iran would deliver "a considerably more severe" response.

On the other hand, the head of Israel's army said Iran's attack would be "met with a response". He provided no further details, but it was the first and alarming indication of possible Israeli retaliation. The prospect of a full-blown war involving Israel, the United States, Iran and others is indeed a devastating thought.

Echoing close international partners such as China, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his deep concern over the possible escalation of regional hostilities in the Middle East. He emphasized that South Africa has consistently called for an immediate cease-fire in the ongoing conflict.

Anticipating the potential for growing conflicts, bloodshed and genocide, South Africa earlier instituted proceedings against Israel at the International Court of Justice in the Hague for violating its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, with respect to its actions in Gaza. South Africa argued in The Hague that Israel violated the 1948 Genocide Convention, established in the aftermath of the Holocaust, which mandates that all countries prevent the recurrence of such crimes.

Pretoria's support for the Palestinian cause is deeply rooted in democratic South Africa's foreign policy. Given the country's history of apartheid, the Palestinian cause is largely seen as analogous to its own struggle against oppression, occupation and violence.

Naledi Pandor, the country's minister of international relations and cooperation, reiterated: "South Africa really has a moral responsibility to always stand with the oppressed because we come from a history of struggle, a history of striving for freedom, a history of believing that everybody deserves human dignity, justice and freedom; this is the only reason that we have taken this major step as South Africa."

South Africa's legal team at The Hague argued that the "intent to destroy Gaza has been nurtured at the highest level of state", and added that Israel's political and military leaders were among "the genocidal inciters".

The ICJ accepted South Africa's argument that, contrary to what Israel claimed, the UN agencies were not being assisted to get aid flowing into Gaza.

The court, the principal judicial organ of the UN, in fact, pronounced a set of provisional measures, later followed by additional measures at South Africa's insistence, that called on Israel to prevent the commission of all acts falling within the scope of the Genocide Convention.

South Africa has been applauded by the international community for working through legitimate global legal instruments to support the Palestinian cause. What is, however, deeply disturbing to South Africa and its international partners is the fact that the Israeli government callously continues to ignore the orders of the ICJ in the genocide case. In clear defiance of the legally-binding order, Israel intensified its violence against the residents of Gaza. It continued to obstruct the provision of basic services and the entry and distribution within Gaza of adequate fuel and lifesaving aid, perpetrating acts of collective punishment that amounted to brutal war crimes and which included the use of "starvation" of civilians as a weapon of war.

By drawing on established international institutions, South Africa's government is simultaneously asking the ICJ to rule on whether there is an ongoing genocide in Gaza and to clarify the duties of all states to prevent genocide, while testing the legitimacy and consistency of this system. So the ICJ is expected to make a judgment on the merits of the case in which it determines whether Israel has violated the Genocide Convention. The process to a final judgment could, however, take several years.

It is against this background that it is encouraging to see that the UN Security Council recently demanded an immediate cease fire between Israel and Hamas and the unconditional release of all hostages after the US abstained from the vote. In addition, there has been a growing global acceptance of the new report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, which concludes that there are "reasonable grounds to believe the threshold indicating Israel's commission of genocide is met".

Furthermore, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union's foreign policy chiefs all joined Washington and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in calling for restraint and to step away from the "edge of the cliff".

An increasing number of international partners such as China are also calling on all parties to exercise the greatest restraint, for the implementation of an instant arms embargo as well as the recognition of Palestine as a sovereign state "when the moment comes".

UN Security Council resolutions are binding and the international community expects the Council to fulfill its mandate and obligations under the United Nations Charter and to take due action as required by the resolution.

However, as mentioned, in clear defiance of the legally-binding order, Israel had intensified its violence against the residents of Gaza when thousands faced starvation and famine as the delivery of aid continued to be disrupted, including the killing of humanitarian and aid workers.

As regards the recent attacks by Israel on Damascus as well as the Iran attack on Israel, the proliferation of global conflicts will continue if the international community does not commit itself to the ending of war and the establishment of conditions under which justice and respect for international law are maintained.

In fact, as long as Israel carries out its ongoing and blatant breaches of international humanitarian law with impunity, the war and injustice will continue.

It is, therefore, imperative that the international community and the UN Security Council, in particular, must act in the pursuit of sustainable and just peace for all people.

The author is a senior research fellow at the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University and a former senior diplomat in the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation.

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