AU not budging on Israel observer status
The African Union (AU) Commission has defended the continental body’s decision to grant Israel observer member status, saying it was at the “express demand of many member states”.
In spite of objections to the move by countries like South Africa, the organisation has remained firm about its decision.
In a statement last week, chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat said the move was made on the basis of “the restoration of diplomatic relations with Israel by more than two thirds of AU member states”.
This comes after South Africa, Algeria, Botswana, Namibia, and Lesotho among a handful of others vehemently rejected the rights bestowed on Israel.
South Africa went as far as describing the move as “unjust, unwarranted, and inexplicable”.
The move has been criticised by anti-Israel lobbyists as having been taken unilaterally and without proper consultation with member states.
The countries objecting to the observer status expressed solidarity with Palestine and reiterated that the people of Palestine were still suffering because of Israel. There have been further rumblings of a jointly signed letter of opposition by a few other Arab member states.
Local pro-Palestinian groups have continued to bemoan the decision by the AU, and staged a protest on 11 August at the offices of the Pan African Parliament in Midrand.
Meanwhile, the African Diaspora for Development (ADD) this week praised the move.
The ADD’s international executive director, Jean-Pierre Alumba Lukamba, said “As Africans, we welcome and celebrate the recent decision by the AU to further our historical ties with the state of Israel by giving Israel observer status in the AU.”
He said the ADD was a platform that aimed to empower Africans in the diaspora and migrants to prosper and achieve their dreams wherever they were in the world.
“Our aim is to create a continent that’s always home regardless of the distance and is always eager to welcome home its sons and daughters,” he said.
He described the decision to officially reignite the formal relationship between the African continent and Israel as “a wise one”.
“Progressive Africans are hoping that this will further help African NGOs [nongovernmental organisations] engage with the success of Israeli ones in bettering the lives of people across the continent,” the organisation’s statement read.
Speaking to the SA Jewish Report, Lukamba, described it as a “positive development”.
“It’s a corrective step to the anomaly that has prevailed for two decades in preventing Israel entry status. Today, Israel has relations with 46 of the 55 African member states,” he said.
The ADD said, “The African diaspora was inspired by the idea to learn from the success of the Israeli diaspora by engaging in a transfer of skills, diasporic investments, and the foundational growth and connection of Jews to their holy land. This decision will enable Africans across the board to learn about Israel, and will enable strong co-operation between the two parties on various aspects, including food security, technological innovation, property development, and a fight against rising extremist entities on our continent.
“We are hopeful that Israel will align its African policies according to the current situations and challenges facing the people of Africa, such as climate change, corruption, xenophobia, the protection of African refugees, food security, access to water and renewable energy, online quality education, effective institutions, infrastructure development, peace, and stability.”
Lukamba said there were more than 70 non-African embassies and NGOs which were part of the AU, and the accreditation of Israel “shouldn’t be seen as an issue” especially after engaging with decades of Israeli aid and developments in helping countries such as Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, and Nigeria, to name but a few.
“If certain African countries have issues with Israel, we urge you to use this opportunity to address them directly in bilateral discussions with the relevant authorities, and ask that these governments not discredit this relationship in order to push hidden political agendas,” the statement said.
Faki Mahamat accepted the credentials of Aleligne Admasu, Israel’s ambassador to Ethiopia, on 22 July.
He said last week that he hoped the move would contribute to the “intensification of the advocacy of the AU for the fulfilment of the principle of two states and the restoration of peace between Israel and Palestine” and reiterated the “unflinching commitment” of the AU to the fundamental rights of the Palestinians.
This included their “right to establish an independent national state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, within the framework of a global, fair, and definitive peace between Israel and Palestine.”
Faki Mahamat said the reservations expressed by “a few members” about this decision justified his intention to include it in the agenda of the forthcoming session of the executive council.
Israel obtained AU observer status last week after 20 years of diplomatic efforts. It had previously held the role at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), but was long thwarted in its attempts to regain it after the OAU was disbanded in 2002 and replaced by the AU.
According to Israel’s foreign ministry, the new status could enable the country and the AU to forge stronger co-operation on various aspects, including the fight against coronavirus and the prevention of the spread of extremist terrorism on the African continent.
The matter is to be placed on the agenda of the next AU executive council meeting in October.