By Alexactus T. Kaure
Namibia’s diplomatic relations with Israel will continue to be controversial especially in the light of that country’s occupation of Palestine.
Israel was also a big supporter of the then apartheid state in its fight against independence for Namibia and South Africa. In addition, it was an open secret that Israel assisted apartheid SA with its ambitious nuclear programme before independence.
Is it not perhaps time that Windhoek cut off diplomatic ties and impose a boycott on all Israeli goods, including companies doing business here until Israel relinquishes the occupation of Palestine?
Or is this perhaps another form of what former American President Ronald Reagan used to call ‘constructive engagement’ during the heydays of the apartheid era? And the USA’s own controversial relationship with Pretoria at that time. New Era put these questions to Phanuel Kaapama, a political scientist at the University of Namibia.
He says we have to understand this relationship in terms of the changing global politics where real politic has now become dominant over ideal politics.
Kaapama says the overriding issue now is national interest and not necessarily values and moral considerations. And national interest, according to Kaapama, is mainly defined and determined by the national elite. This is the model that many countries are now following on the global scene, he says.
Therefore, he is not surprised that Israel has diplomatic relations with Namibia. Israel has a non-resident representative operating from South Africa.
Kaapama says Swapo was operating in a different environment before independence because there were choices then. However, with the collapse of the Soviet system, politics has been transformed into a uni-polar world and it is difficult for small states like Namibia to go it alone. The best option, says Kaapama, is to partake in multilateral initiatives with regard to the Israeli/Palestinian issue.
Asked what benefits Namibia gets from such a relationship, Kaapama said the government strategy is to solicit foreign direct investment and that is perhaps why the country has entered into such an arrangement.
There are Israeli companies doing business in Namibia, notably LLD operating in one of our core sectors of the national economy – the diamond sector.
It is now easily forgotten in political circles that during the dark days of our liberation struggle, the liberation movement and activists in both Namibia and South Africa campaigned intensely against companies and countries that had economic and diplomatic ties with SA.
The strategy then was total disengagement with the apartheid state. It was a diplomatic approach meant to isolate Pretoria so that it could negotiate with the liberation movement in both SA and Namibia. In retrospect, that approach worked. So why can’t the same strategy be used with regard to Israel?
New Era tried to solicit some views on these issues from the South African High Commission in Windhoek but was referred to their Foreign Affairs Department in Pretoria without success, as the spokesperson was apparently in meetings.
Comments from the Namibian Foreign Minister also proved fruitless because Minister Marco Hausiku had been in endless meetings for most of last week and neither could his deputy avail herself for an interview, saying this was a policy issue and only the minister could comment on that.
There is an ironic twist to this relationship because Swapo was a friend of Yasser Arafat and the PLO and here they are working with a state that is occupying and killing Palestinians on a daily basis.