[in] focus

Opening the ‘black-box’ of South African foreign policy making

blackboxForeign policy is concerned with the internal and external level of state relations, it is the sum of a state’s principles and practices that determine its behaviour with other actors in the international arena. It consists of domestic institutions and issues of the state as well as foreign issues that affect the state. Holsti highlights core, middle-range and long-range objectives of foreign policy. Short-range objectives are core values and interests which are of paramount importance for a state e.g. political independence and territorial integrity. Middle-range objectives are concerned with interstate economic and political relations including economic prosperity of a state and the enhancement of its status, while long-range objectives are set over a longer time frame and are aimed at political or ideological re-organization of the international system.

Foreign policy during the apartheid era was characterised by ‘pariah diplomacy’, but since 1994 there has been significant changes in South Africa’s foreign policy orientation. For instance, the ‘old’ South African diplomacy was secretive and clandestine, whereas the ‘new and modern’ South African diplomacy has embraced the spirit of openness and multilateralism. Furthermore, whereas the apartheid-era foreign policy towards the sub-region and region was marked by a siege mentality, the post-transition South Africa has prioritized regional integration and the African agenda as a core tenet of its foreign policy.

The South African Foreign Policy making ‘black-box’ will be divided into three categories, namely political actors, the interplay between government and state-owned entities, and lastly the interplay between the state and non-state actors. The first category of South African foreign policy looks into the complex process of interaction between various political actors. At a national level, the President is the most powerful and important actor in foreign policymaking. Since 1994, the African National Congress has had the power of setting South Africa’s foreign policy agenda. So far South Africa’s foreign policy has been guided by the administration of Presidents Mandela, Mbeki, Motlanthe, Zuma, and now under the leadership of President Ramaphosa. The administration of President Mandela from 1994 - 1999, was primarily linked to the promotion of human rights, peace, justice, unity and democracy. The Mbeki administration from 1999-2008, placed great emphasis on the role of Africa within South Africa’s foreign policy. During the Motlanthe administration from 2008-2009, the President played a crucial role in ensuring stability and continuity in South Africa’s international relations. Under the Zuma-turned-Ramaphosa administration, more focus has been put on domestic frameworks such as the National Development Plan (NDP) and various economic diplomacy initiatives. The Department of international Relations and Cooperation, currently headed by Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, also plays a key role in foreign policy decision making as the key interface between objectives and implementation. Provided that almost all Ministries are in some way involved in South Africa’s international relations, the role of DIRCO has become ever more complex as it seeks to coordinate foreign policy across ministries and between national, provincial, and local government.

The second category of South African foreign policy looks at the interplay between the government and state owned entities. Even though the role of parastatals is not yet fully acknowledged in the South African economic diplomacy strategy, with very little research published in this area of study, there is a growing realisation of the importance played by state-owned enterprises in the pursuit of economic diplomacy. The South African Department of Public Enterprises has prepared a strategy for Africa, which aims to coordinate the investment activities of state-owned companies in the continent and promote regional development. A number of South Africa’s state-owned companies have an international mandate or are directly involved in activities that are encompassed by the concept of economic diplomacy. These include Eskom, Transnet, South African Airways and Denel, as well as development-finance institutions such as the Development Bank of Southern African and the Industrial Development Corporation.

The third category is the role of non-state actors, which refers to the domestic constituency of foreign policy making where any non-state actors within a ‘society’ including academia, think tanks, business, labour unions, private media, NGOs, voluntary organisations and political parties, provide public opinions as well as checks-and-balances. To name a few actors in the think tank landscape, one finds the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), the Institute for Global Dialogue (IGD) and the African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD). However, civil society still largely remains on the periphery of foreign policy making, and this will be looked at further in this research series on the black-box of South African foreign policy making. Of particular importance will be the role of the South African Council on International Relations (SACOIR) as the potential bridge between state and non-state actors in foreign policy.

The challenge faced today is the need for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation to coordinate all the work and narratives of each actor in South African foreign policy, and the following blogs will form a series to discursively assess the role of each of the actors mentioned above in South African foreign policy, and also recommend how the Department of International Relations and Cooperation can manage the South African foreign policy landscape and work towards a common goal. Foreign policy is a multifaceted exercise, entailing various levels of analysis. This has implications for foreign policy making processes, including the management of relationships among various actors in a multistakeholder approach.

Ms Jesuloba Ilesanmi holds a BA Hons in Political Sciences from the University of Pretoria and is an NRF research assistant at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA. Her views do not nece

TRUMP’S MULTIPOLARITY, PART 2

trumpFrom the G7 dust up in Quebec, the photo-op of the century in Singapore, the shambolic NATO summit in Brussels followed by hard-Brexiteering in London and his Helsinki tete-a-tete with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom some increasingly suspect as his ‘handler,’  Donald J. Trump has been on a roll, inadvertently reshuffling the strategic landscape linking Europe and Asia. By aggressively widening the gap in transatlantic relations by waging a trade war against allies on top of exiting the Iran nuclear deal and threatening secondary sanctions should their companies continue business with Tehran, Europe moves ever closer toward strategic autonomy. And in Trump’s imagination, NATO is worse than NAFTA! One might say, the post-alliance transatlantic era has arrived.

With Singapore having concluded in an amicable “exchange of opinions” out of Trump’s summitry antics with North Korea linked to the seemingly growing Pyongyang-Seoul rapprochement, in tandem with caucusing between North Korea and China, the other end of the Eurasian landmass in East Asia looks increasingly in geo-strategic play as well. After all, apart from what had been his off-on again tete-a-tete with Kim Jong Un, Trump had already unilaterally been broaching another ‘America First’ impulse: winding down America’s troop presence in South Korea – which he may want to do in Germany as well.

This impulse re-emerged in Singapore. It was not clear if it was part of a mutual confidence building trade-off in an ongoing Trump-Kim ‘denuclearizing’ dialogue flowing from Singapore. In fact, Singapore appeared a ‘one-way street’ with Trump announcing suspension of naval exercises with broader ultimate implications for the integrity of the US-Japan defence alliance. Depending on how such unilateral suspensions and draw-downs are implemented, Trump’s impulses could potentially reinforce Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s agenda to change Japan’s pacifist constitution. This is not something Japan’s former involuntary participants in its Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere would contemplate with much enthusiasm.

On the other hand, Japan’s neighbors aren’t enthusiastic about China’s Indo-Pacific agenda in and around the East and South China Seas either – including the Taiwan Straits. Yet, uncertainties arising from these cascading Trumpianisms could possibly be more than offset by new inter-East Asian regional economic cooperation emerging out of Moon-Kim-Trump summitry dynamics. Through its ‘trade war’ coercive diplomacy aimed at China and Europe, the incoherent economic nationalism of the Trump-Wilber Ross-Larry Kudlow-Steve Mnuchin-Peter Navarro posse does geostrategic-economic wonders for China. Beijing is much better and more disciplined at playing the ‘long game’ than Washington.

Although Chairman Kim may have recalibrated his priorities from having achieved North Korea’s nuclear weapons state status, now wishing to refocus on economic nation-building, he really needs no transactional ‘art of the deal’ from Trump to incentivize denuclearization; this is especially so when Trump had pretty much conceded what was already limited leverage by triumphally boasting how ‘maximum pressure’ had already delivered a denuked North Korea, proclaiming in ‘mission accomplished’ fashion that Pyongyang was no longer a nuclear threat! Secretary of State Pompeo’s recent Pyongyang visit provides a reality check.

There is no returning to multilateral ‘maximum pressure’ on North Korea that Beijing or anyone else will bandwagon with Washington as there will be no multilateral nuclear ‘better deal’ with Iran recognized by anyone outside the likes of Israel and Saudi Arabia. Now Trump, with midterm elections looming is dictating to OPEC to lower oil prices that arose partially in consequence of his pulling the US out of the Iran deal.

Both North Korea and Iran are willing Belt-Road candidates for joining China’s trans-Eurasian jamboree linking Europe and Asia, while North Korea could also likely figure in an ASEAN+3 equation with South Korea and Japan as well as China. Iran is an observer member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization pending full membership which could conceivably extend to Pyongyang as well.

North Korea could also find its way into the China-backed Regional Economic Comprehensive Partnership as a counterpoise to Barack Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership that Trump exited, mainly to spite Obama at America’s geoeconomic expense as it was Trump’s notion of a ‘bad deal’! Indeed, the anti-Obama dimension will be elaborated on at a later date in terms of exploring how the US and its foreign policy establishment is grappling with managing inevitable superpower relative decline.

Suffice for now to point out that Trump, mascarading ‘strength’ for what in reality is ‘weakness,’ accelerates America’s relative decline by quickening the pace of multipolarity on Russian terms. By sharpening divisions between the US and its allies on issues of sanctions (Iran) and trade (tariffs), the real element anchoring American hegemony, the US Dollar, could well face erosion as the world’s premier reserve currency. It is perhaps this factor – the USD -- more than military ‘might makes right’ that cements the hegemony of the Land of the ‘Free’ and the Home of the ‘Brave.’ Back to North Korea: why does Pyongnang need USD in financing its way out of economic pariah status when there is a basket of currencies within the Plus 3 of the ASEAN Economic Community? Namely, China’s yuan, Japan’s Yen and South Korea’s Won? And Iran, for its part, will trade with China in yuan.

Trump, thus, lends impetus to the ‘local currency’ multipolarity of the global financial architecture at the expense of the US Dollar, a major fundamental motivating factor that gave rise to the BRIC in 2009 which became BRICS in 2011. So while the EU is being forced into consolidating its post-transatlantic alliance autonomy on the western end of Afro-Eurasia, the normalizing of North Korea could consolidate the geo-strategic identity of ASEAN+3 on Eurasia’s far eastern extremity. Don’t write off BRICS just yet!

Francis A. Kornegay, Jr. is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA, a member of the JIOR international editorial board and a past fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center of Scholars. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent IGD/Unisa policy.

Ticking Obligatory Boxes? South Africa’s Chairship of SADC 2017-2018

SADCSouth Africa is headed for the conclusion of its chairship of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in August 2018. President Cyril Ramaphosa made an inaugural tour of the region following his ascendancy into the Presidency after the resignation of President Jacob Zuma on 14 February 2018. The three stops of the working visit to Angola, Namibia, and Botswana allowed Ramaphosa to rekindle friendships and reintroduce himself for the first time as the President of South Africa and chairperson of the regional body, with South Africa having assumed chairship of SADC in August 2017. The seamless transition, handover, and continuity from Mr Jacob Zuma his predecessor in the presidency of the republic was lauded both at home in South Africa as well as across the continent. The seasoned politician and statesman was already familiar within the region as a former SADC facilitator to the beleaguered Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.

South Africa’s chairship of SADC continues where Swaziland left-off in August 2017, further attempting to implement the regional body’s main policy instruments under the theme “Partnering with the Private Sector in Developing Industry and Regional Value Chains”. Industrialisation has long been identified as a priority for the region and the symbiotic relationship between infrastructure development and the former cannot be overstated. Moreover, the interdependence and success between the two programmes hinges on the involvement of a vigorous and hands-on private sector hence a special mention of business in the current theme. Despite registered progress at programmatic level in areas such as infrastructure, many of the overarching SADC milestones remain either delayed or totally missed. Three of the most notable delays include failure in achieving a Common Market (2015), Monetary Union (2016), as well as a Single-currency/Economic Union (2018).  

Nevertheless, South Africa has been entrusted with the duty of entrenching the two main objectives of; Institutionalisation of the Relationship between Government and the Private Sector, and the Operationalisation of the SADC adopted Industrialisation Policy as well as its costed action plan. Three areas of focus have been identified within the Regional Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap (RISR), namely; agro-processing, mineral beneficiation, and manufacturing. Whilst there are numerous projects within the regional structure, a few on the infrastructure front stand out. The Lesotho Water Transfer Scheme under the Orange-Senqu River Commission (ORASECOM) has seen the ratification of the agreement for this water sharing project by Lesotho, Botswana, South Africa and Namibia. The project aims at sourcing water from the Lesotho Highlands to Botswana. The passage of the water logically goes through South Africa since Botswana does not share any borders with Lesotho. There are indications that the pipeline for the project will launch from Johannesburg, joining existing water infrastructure and not connect directly with the Lesotho Highlands. Funding for the project has been secured via the African Development Bank (AfDB). The private sector is also involved in the project with De Beers in Botswana having facilitated some of the earliest meetings on the project. The second important project to note is the Inter-state Natural Gas Committee that aims at facilitating for the gas exploitation regime to contribute towards the broader regional energy mix. The AfDB is providing technical assistance for the project. It is also hoped that these developments will pave way for the establishment of a Regional Development Fund (RDF), which will steer the regional bloc away from borrowing funds from international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Meanwhile President Ramaphosa announced during South Africa’s State of the Nation Address in February (SONA) that the Tripartite Free Trade Agreement (TFTA) has been ratified by 26 countries. This brings together SADC, Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA), and the East African Community (EAC).  A total of 625 million people and a $1 trillion combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) form the aggregate from this agreement. The linkage between the TFTA and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is readily discernable. On 21 March 2018, at a gathering in Kigali, Rwanda, 44 of the 55 members of the African Union signed the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).  The objectives of the AfCFTA entail, inter alia, creating a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, and thus pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs Union and the African Customs Union. This new development is planned to expand intra African trade through better harmonization and coordination of trade liberalization and facilitation regimes and instruments across Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and across Africa in general. This accelerated integration would resolve a number of challenges including multiple and overlapping memberships. 

Parallel initiatives in the front of peace building and conflict resolution continue earnestly with talks for holding the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) elections being fast-tracked. The delayed election and continued instability in the eastern DRC continue to be a cause for concern. Some within the community have argued that the DRC has received preferential treatment following the country’s failure to hold elections in December 2016 after the end of President Kabila’s final two-term mandate. As of June 2018, no elections have been held in the massive central African country. Questions arise as to why SADC has not expedited the suspension of the DRC. It is worth recalling that SADC was swift to suspend Madagascar in 2009 based on the latter’s alleged unconstitutional change of government. However, any observer of politics of the region would agree that the story of the DRC is not a simple one as it involves a number of regional and international players who seem to have an interest in the on-going instability in this African country. At the moment it remains daunting to imagine a post-Kabila DRC and the restoration of order in the country seems larger than SADC’s remit. The country is nominally a unitary state with the central government not in full charge of the polity in its entirety. On the other hand, work is still in progress regarding implementation of the SADC recommendations after the 2017 general election in Lesotho. On the latter, the priority is putting Lesotho on a peaceful and stable footing, which includes reforms on the constitution and the security sector. One idea that has not yet been broached and explored from a security perspective is that of dissolving the Lesotho military force permanently and ceding the country’s safety and defence responsibilities to SADC. Most accounts point at the jostling for control of the Lesotho military as the fundamentally disruptive factor that has led to elusive peace and stability in the Mountain Kingdom. Lastly, it is still unclear as to how far the process of admitting Burundi as a member of SADC is, this is work in progress. If domestic instability is the major issue delaying admission of Burundi into the regional body then this factor makes the latter indistinguishable from the DRC. The next SADC’s Summit of Heads of State then needs to revisit the regional body’s position on Burundi, at the moment it remains unclear as to what the outstanding issues are. 

As South Africa relinquishes the chairship in two months-time, questions on the implementation of the regional body’s priorities before handing over the chairship to Namibia this coming August remain. The pressing question remains that of unmet targets and deadlines. Most SADC members appear to be preoccupied with their own domestic politics, which robs the regional body of focus and undivided attention from leaders. The discrepancies in political, cultural, and economic development amongst members become impediments to the realisation of advanced regional integration. Without tangible material transformation and change for the people on the ground, SADC engagements merely become an exercise of ticking boxes for politicians. However, it stands indisputable that delivery on the infrastructure and industrialisation combination will fundamentally transform the region and this requires vibrant and resolute leadership from the part of governments and the private sector. 

 

Dr Mabutho Shangase is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue (IGD) and a Lecturer in the Department of Political Sciences, University of Pretoria. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent IGD/Unisa policy.

South Africa & The World 2019: The UNSC

unscIn January 2019, South Africa returns for a third time to the UN Security Council. And this, after being yellow carded by US President Donald J. Trump’s UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley on the basis of South Africa’s voting record in the UN. There should be a sense of urgency attached to South Africa’s Security Council return, for complications await it. Notwithstanding the maliciously imperialist posturing of the US regarding those voting against Washington at the UN on matters such as Israel-Palestine, Tshwane will continue disappointing Washington given the Trump administration’s ‘in your face’ belligerently isolationist foreign policy. South Africa and Nigeria, throughout Tshwane’s Security Council tenure, could find themselves at loggerheads regarding the direction of the African Union (AU) agenda if they do not coordinate their positions and strategic interests better, especially given Nigeria’s seat in the AU Peace and Security Council. This is where South Africa’s Africa strategy will be in for a stress test in the two years of its tenure.

Regarding African peace and security, Tshwane will have to assertively confront the destabilizing partitioning of the continent; this is between northern Africa’s volatile geopolitics, within what is generally referred to as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, extending to the Horn of Africa, and the continuing instabilities in and around the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan. In this regard, the changeover in administration from the non-strategic transactionalism of the Jacob Zuma government to the more economic diplomacy motivations of Cyril Ramaphosa could not be better timed; this is especially inasmuch as the new incumbent at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, has clearly articulated how much she wants to return South Africa to an international standing exemplary of Nelson Mandela.

Let’s start out surveying northern Africa, from the Maghreb to the Horn. For it is throughout Africa’s northern tier that the AU’s cohesion faces its greatest challenge. Apart from post-Qaddafi turmoil in a Libya defying pacification, the crux of regional instability revolves around the Western Sahara and Morocco’s unrelenting opposition to implementing UN-mandated self-determination in this territory. Besides doubling down on a diplomacy of resolute support for Sahrawi independence, South Africa must strengthen the self-determination case by linking it to the urgency of operationalizing the functioning of the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) and expanding its remit into the northwestern Sudano-Sahelian border regions extending into Chad Lake Basin instabilities. Given that Morocco currently sits in the AU Peace and Security Council, it will however not be straightforward to garner solid support from the African bloc given the manner in which South Africa has been somewhat caught flat footed by Moroccan diplomatic efforts on the continent in recent years. At a time when South Africa needs all the leverage it can muster on Western Sahara and other African strategic priorities, the country will have to consider carefully the implications of doubling down on the less-strategic priority of downgrading its embassy in Israel, especially when South Africa has already taken one of the hardest stances on Israel following the recent massacre of Palestinians during the controversial opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem.

Rather, with Germany also coming onto the UNSC, this means undertaking a no-holds barred security dialogue with the European Union at a time when the EU itself is undergoing its own stress test on a variety of fronts, including on trans-Mediterranean migration from Africa. This is why resolving the Western Sahara conundrum is so urgent, yet growing more complicated: Morocco is now closely aligning itself with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel by accusing Iran of intervening in supporting Polisaro. This situation could even become more complicated if Nigeria follows suit in joining these Sunni-Shia anti-Iran follies at the expense of resolving the Western Sahara standoff and operationalizing UMA, the missing pillar of the AU – with negative implications for an African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Morocco’s decision to bandwagon against Iran with Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel extends the penetration of fractious Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) geopolitics throughout the entire northern tier of Africa, from where the turmoil between the Saudi-UAE alliance against Qatar spills over across the Red Sea into Northeast Africa. Here, South Africa could explore how it might make use of Ethiopia’s recent willingness to implement the UN settlement of its Badme border dispute with Eritrea into navigating an AU common position on disengaging the Horn of Africa from the Persian Gulf civil war between Saudi-UAE versus Qatar as a proxy in Saudi-Iranian sectarian geopolitical interregional destabilization. An Ethio-Eritrean rapprochement is key to unravelling Persian Gulf militarization of the Horn. But this still leaves out other interrelated issues: Nile River Basin tensions between Ethiopia and Sudan with Egypt and ongoing peace and security diplomacy Tshwane is involved in with the UNSC in South Sudan. Given the priority Ramaphosa affords the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and its eastern and southern African dimension in the Cape to Cairo Tripartite FTA, South Africa must confront these preconditional peace and security challenges in greater eastern Africa.

Finally, coming to terms with the DRC’s endemic instability via the UNSC is also critical. Here, an AU-orchestrated intervention by SADC, the East African Community and  Economic Community of Central African States is important in finding a lasting solution. A balance between centralist and federalist approaches in the Congo that embed the country in the three regional economic communities will thus be important.  All in all, South Africa’s third go-round on the Security Council may turn out as a ‘beware what you wish for’ gift of pan-African challenges awaiting Sisulu’s presumptive revival of Mandela’s foreign policy legacy. Meanwhile, to be determined is where South Africa’s strategic priority lies: African Unity or the Middle East.

Francis A. Kornegay, Jr. is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA, a member of the JIOR international editorial board and a past fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center of Scholars. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent IGD/Unisa policy.

SHARPEVILLE IN GAZA? Israel-Palestinian Twilight Zone

SharpvilleInGazaThe juxtaposition of the Donald Trump administration moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the massacre of Palestinians at the Gaza-Israel ‘border’ placed in sharp relief the moral and political bankruptcy of the US-Israeli alliance, one reinforced by their alliance with Wahabist Saudi Arabia. For all intents and purposes, the Palestinians have been cut adrift by Israel’s new found Sunni Arab allies. This is amid Israeli-American rightwing unity in what emerges as a joint Apartheid project in Palestinian subjugation. It mocks liberal Zionism’s inspirational birth of Israel. If Israel and supporters can justify the massacre that happened, including thousands injured, by propagandizing it as having been orchestrated by Hamas, this is tantamount to dismissively justifying the Sharpeville Massacre as caused by the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania.

The Gaza confrontations amid Trump-Netanyahu provocations serve as a backdrop for what is very real agonizing underway within Israel and its Jewish diaspora on ‘where to from here.’ What has passed for many decades as a ‘two-state solution’ aka ‘Peace Process’ entered a cul-de-sac under Barack Obama. The rupture is total under Trump. It is well known how skittish US politicians are to venture even mild criticisms of Israel, fearing reprisals from the Israel Lobby.

But this is changing as harsh criticism of Israel gathers momentum from within American Jewry and Israel alike. This was evident in one of the most read articles in the Washington Post calling Israel a ‘savage, unrepairable society’. The fact that this reticence has been broken by Jewish former Democratic Party presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, points to an increasingly urgent Jewish and Israeli debate underway in search of a pathway out of the dead-end that US-supported impunity and intransigence in Tel-Aviv has rendered. This debate was on display in Johannesburg at the beginning of 2018.

On February 5th 2018, the Liliesleaf Museum and Estate (where Rivonia trialists were nabbed by apartheid security police on 11 July 1963) hosted an insightful dialogue on “Israel and Palestine: What lies ahead?” It featured some of the most intensely sobering and extended exchanges to be witnessed on this seminal issue between three heavyweights. Featured was former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Alon Liel, once a senior advisor to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Liel squared off with renowned liberal journalist Benjamin Pogrund and the head of the Afro-Middle Eastern Centre, Naéem Jeenah.

Most notable about the event was how it could have been witnessed as an intimate ‘hearts and minds’ debate among Israelis and Jews between Alon and Pogrund, with Palestinians and Arabs in the background. Perhaps under current circumstances, this is as it would have to be. Gross US-backed power asymmetries between Israelis and Palestinians and between Israel and its Arab neighbors amid the fraught regional geopolitical landscape leaves little of consequence to discuss. Hence, Naéem was never really in the dialogue.

Indeed the Palestinian position on what should lie ahead for Israelis and Palestinians currently has no power in the equation, less in fact than what black South Africans had when confronting Afrikaner nationalism. On top of that, internal Palestinian power-struggles add yet another layer to the Israel-Palestinian equation. Hence, Israel’s exploitation of these dynamics in the Gaza massacre with the Trump administration chimming in amid unanimous international condemnation. But this digresses from internal Jewish-Israeli agonizing over the future. 

What was most interesting on the night of the 5th February 2018 in Rivonia was the point-counterpoint between an Israeli senior diplomat on the one hand and a respected Jewish liberal senior journalist on the other. At dialogue’s end, one thing was clear: Alon and Pogrund both converged into a consensus that Israel can in no way, shape or form be considered a democracy. Considering, between them, how significant a swath of Jewish and Israeli opinion the two of them may represent, this emerging consensus puts paid to the notion of an Israel as simultaneously democratic and Jewish. This convergence strikes at the very heart of what must be the anguish of soul searching burdening Israeli and diaspora Jewish ambivalence about ‘where to from here’ for Israel.

For the democratically socialist project of Zion has hit a wall, a wall of ultra-intolerant, extremist fanaticism in the service of settler-annexationism. Israel, ‘the Home of the Jews’ is no longer democratic, let alone liberal: an illiberal democracy perhaps? Moreover, the no longer hidden corruption cloud hovering over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu further erodes the very credibility of an Israel in rightwing lockstep with the equally scandolous Republican administration of Donald Trump, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Ambassador Alon and Pogrund could not arrive at common ground on either one or two states. Pogrund latched onto two states as if to a security blanket while Alon had no illusions about its realistic prospects.

Where Alon may be headed in his own thinking and where Israelis of his mind-set may need to nurture their diaspora brethren is somewhere in the vicinity of where veteran Israeli commentator Bernard Avishai pointed: toward “Confederation: The one possible Israel-Palestine solution,” in New York Review of Books. He states that: “A confederal system modeled on greater Jerusalem, but without the repression mobilized by Likud governments” would, in effect, constitute ‘one state’ while accommodating two interdependent but autonomous polities, something of a halfway house between one and two states. Moreover, Avishai’s plan could conceivably even include federating with Jordan as well. Perhaps, in the end, much depends on a new American-Israeli coalition of forces taking shape to place on the table a new security and policy framework that offsets the overwhelming power asymmetry between Israel and Palestinians to force changes in the strategic calculus in Tel-Aviv much as changed Afrikanerdom’s reality in the South Africa of the late 1980s.

Francis A. Kornegay, Jr. is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA, a member of the JIOR international editorial board and Global Fellow of The Wilson Centre in Washington. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent IGD/Unisa policy.

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