Middle East, Africa

‘Israel’s overtures toward AU mask efforts to dilute Africa’s support for Palestine’

Experts warn granting AU observer status to Israel will leave African states open to Israeli influence

Hassan Isilow   | 22.09.2021
‘Israel’s overtures toward AU mask efforts to dilute Africa’s support for Palestine’


The recent decision by the African Union (AU) to grant Israel observer status could have been the result of growing Western pressure to reduce traditional Palestinian support on the continent, experts say.

“The AU Commission is expectedly facing various pressures from the US as well as former colonial powers, especially France and Britain. Their collective goal is to tilt the AU away from an African ethos to neoconservative policies,” Iqbal Jassat, an executive member of the Johannesburg-based think tank Media Review Network, told Anadolu Agency.

He said the first salvo indicative of this shift is granting Israel observer status at the 54-nation body, whose majority opposes Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Many African countries, especially those in the southern and northern parts of the continent, have objected to the decision made by AU Commission head Moussa Faki Mahamat, saying they were not consulted.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC), a bloc of 16 countries, also condemned the decision at a recent summit in Malawi and want it to be reviewed, while half a dozen North African countries delivered a verbal protest note to Mahamat at the AU headquarters in Ethiopia.

“South Africa firmly believes that as long as Israel is not willing to negotiate a peace plan [with Palestine] without preconditions, it should not have an observer status in the African Union,” South Africa’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“The African Union cannot be a party in any way to plans and actions that would see the ideals of Palestinian statehood reduced to balkanized entities devoid of true sovereignty, without territorial contiguity and with no economic viability,” it added.

Israeli agenda on the continent

“Israel has been trying to get accredited to the AU since 2002, when the continental body was formed as a successor to the Organization of African Unity (OAU),” Na'eem Jeenah, executive director of the Afro-Middle East Center, a research institute in Johannesburg dedicated to studying the Middle East and North Africa, told Anadolu Agency.

Israel had previously held the position of observer at the OAU.

Jeenah said Tel Aviv has been expanding and strengthening links with AU member states for decades and currently has a group of African states that are fully supportive of the Israeli project in Africa.

“The Israeli agenda includes a few elements. First, it wants to further weaken Palestinian solidarity that was once very strong on the continent – both at the state and civil society level,” he said.

“Such a break in solidarity would mean ensuring that states [and citizens] do not adopt boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel.”

Jeenah said the Zionist state has repeatedly expressed that it regards the global BDS movement as an existential threat.

“Second, Israel has always been unhappy that AU member states usually vote as a bloc in most international fora, such as various UN bodies, including the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council,” he explained.

“It seeks to break this bloc vote where it comes to the matter of Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestine and the Palestinian people.”

The third aspect, according to the South African academic, is that a number of African states have proven to be ready and willing consumers of certain Israeli products, especially those related to security, which reduces their opposition towards Israel.

- Was the AU Commission pressured?

Mahamat, the AU Commission chief, said last month that the decision to accredit Israel to the AU falls within his full “sphere of competence,” without being tied to any preliminary procedure.

He said in a statement that the decision was taken on the basis that Israel has restored diplomatic relations with more than two thirds of AU member states.

However, Jeenah noted that while Mahamat does have the power to grant the status, he is supposed to only do so if the applicant state conducts itself in line with the AU’s Constitutive Act, and only if he knows that AU member states do not oppose the accreditation.

“Despite knowing that Israel’s acts of occupation, colonization and apartheid violate the values and principles of the AU Constitutive Act, and despite knowing that a large number of member states have consistently opposed Israel’s accreditation since 2002, Mahamat went ahead anyway,” he said.

“There are reports that Mahamat was pressured to do so by two or three AU member states, as well as by France.

“Since there have been official objections lodged with the AU Commission, the matter will now be discussed at the AU’s Executive Council meeting on Oct. 13-14. The Executive Council could overrule the decision of the AU Commission chair and revoke Israel’s accreditation,” Jeenah explained.

Irrespective of what the Executive Council decides, he added, the matter could also be brought up for discussion at the AU Summit next January.

If the decision is not reversed, it could have serious consequences for solidarity with Palestine on the continent because Israel, as an observer, will be able to participate in various AU meetings and fora and will even have speaking rights at some of these, according to Jeenah.

“This could help influence African states and delegations against the Palestinian people and in support of Israeli occupation,” he warned.

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