Israel playing it safe with Zimbabwe’s diamonds

It now seems to be becoming a pattern. Members of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme meet in Israel. The major point on the agenda is Zimbabwe’s rough diamonds from Marange. Some Western governments and human rights organisations vehemently oppose the lifting of the ban on Zimbabwe’s diamonds. African diamond mining countries argue that Zimbabwe must be allowed to sell its diamonds.  The diamond industry says Zimbabwe must be allowed to sell its diamonds openly because they are going to get into the market anyway. The KP meeting ends in deadlock.  But not so, says Zimbabwe’s Mines Minister Obert  Mpofu. The country is going to sell its diamonds anyway. Everyone leaves the meeting happy. Each claims victory.

A few weeks later, outside Israel, Zimbabwe is granted permission to sell its diamonds, perhaps under supervision. Could this be the case this time? Everything points in that direction. Boaz Hirsch, chairman of the Kimberley Process, said no agreement had been reached on exports from Marange but he added that one is expected in the coming days.  "We are still working with Zimbabwe and other countries. We were unable at this stage to reach a consensus."

Hirsch said a few countries, which he did not identify, still needed to approve certification. "It's safe to say we will be engaging with them heavily as of tomorrow," Hirsch said. This is exactly what happened at the last meeting in June. The intersessional meeting in Israel ended without a resolution. Three weeks later agreement was reached, this time in St Petersburg, Russia. This raised no eyebrows because Russia has supported Zimbabwe before even at the United Nations Security Council.

The same thing could happen again. Mines Minister Obert Mpofu told reporters in Jerusalem that agreement had been reached. "Zimbabwe will sell diamonds without any conditions. There is no opposition to that," he said. Mpofu said that some Western countries were using the Kimberley Process as a forum to air their political frustrations. "We're not benefitting from being a member of the Kimberley Process, but we are still a member. We believe in doing things the orderly way," he said.

Israel itself is for the lifting of the ban as it is one of the major players in the diamond industry. But according to one political analyst, it was merely playing politics. Israel did not want to offend its biggest political ally, the United States, but at the same time it did not want to shut its doors to Zimbabwe’s diamonds. Its solution was therefore to back Zimbabwe but at the same appease the United States by not allowing the final decision to be made on its soil.

According to Rapaport, one of those opposed to the selling of Zimbabwe’s diamonds, members of the Kimberley Process will now work electronically to reach a decision.  With the answer almost obvious although civil society organisations still insist that Zimbabwe must not be allowed to sell its diamonds until it meets certain conditions, if Zimbabwe is given the go-ahead, the decision will not have been made on Israeli soil.  And by the end of next month, Israel will no longer be chair of the KP. The Democratic Republic of Congo whose leader Joseph Kabila is a close ally – almost a son- of President Robert Mugabe will be the chair from January 1. Any decision made in DRC will not raise eyebrows.

Diamond industry experts from Israel say Zimbabwe has become such a major player that it cannot be ignored. They fear that the continued ban on legal exports can only benefit two countries, India and China with China likely to be the biggest beneficiary because it already has a diamond mine in the controversial fields at Marange.

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