Israel’s recent admission to the African Union (AU) as an observer has prompted a strong backlash from the Member States of the African bloc.
Moussa Faki, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, recently received credentials from Israel’s ambassador to Ethiopia, Burundi and Chad, Aleli Admasu.
This decision by the AU Commission to grant the State of Israel an observer status, a move that had been rejected for nearly two decades, has triggered criticism with several African countries saying its admission is incompatible with the values and principles of the AU charter.
Many are demanding an “explanation and outright reversal” of the decision.
Israel, however, is delighted with this milestone when it acknowledged that “this is a day of celebration for Israel-Africa relations,” noting that the achievement “corrects the anomaly that has existed for almost two decades.”
“Israel’s observer status will enable greater cooperation, among other things, in the fight against Corona and the prevention of the spread of extremist terrorism throughout the continent,” the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Pleased by its decision, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was quick to congratulate the AU “for its leadership in building bridges and creating new avenues for exchange,” adding that the country welcomes “Israel’s return to the African Union as an observer as part of our support for broader normalization.”
Israel’s push to join AU
Joining the African Union is a diplomatic goal Israel had been working to achieve for nearly two decades.
Israel attained observer status at the African Union on July 22, after 19 diplomatic efforts.
It had previously held observer status at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) but was long thwarted in its attempts to get it back after the OAU was disbanded in 2002 and replaced by the AU.
The Ethiopia-based AU is a continental bloc that represents all 55 Member States, most of whom suffered terribly at the hands of repressive colonialists. The organization was a common front to forge sociopolitical progress among members.
Israel has serially rejected African immigrants, but it has identified deepening political ties with Africa as a key foreign policy priority.
Seeking the observer status at AU, analysts believe, is part of a broader diplomatic manoeuvre to gain transatlantic support, build strategic cooperation and access African markets.
“The key objective behind Israel’s longstanding effort to gain access to the AU has been undermining Palestinian efforts to influence the continental stance on the situation in Israel/Palestine and, by implication, the stance of independent African states on the matter,” Al Jazeera analyst Marwan Bishara reports.
Meanwhile, Palestine has long had observer status in the African Union.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, is regularly given the opportunity to address the organisation’s summits.
For decades, African countries have supported the Palestinian liberation struggle against Israel, seeing in it parallels with their own anti-colonial movements.
Likewise, the African Union has not hesitated to criticise Israeli international law violations and the occupation of Palestinian lands.
Most recently, in May, Mr Faki, chairperson of the AU, condemned Israel’s war on Gaza and its violent attacks against Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Although the decision of the African Union Commission to include Israel as an observer member of the organization was taken without consulting most of the members, the union assured that it will not have any impact on its decisions.
“The decision will not affect the position of the African Union and its the firm and effective support of the continental organization towards the Palestinian cause, and its commitment to embodying the inalienable national rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to establish their independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
It added that the systems of the African Union do not give any possibility for the 87 observer states outside Africa to influence the positions of the continental organization whose determination stems from the exclusive prerogative of the member states.
At his July meeting with Mr Adamsu, Mr Faki stressed the AU’s position over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reiterating the bloc’s stance that a two-state solution was “necessary for a peaceful co-existence.”
He emphasised that the path towards long-lasting peace and stability requires that the peace process and the solutions sought must not only be acceptable but must guarantee the rights of all parties.
Israeli authorities have committed crimes of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians, global advocacy group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in an April report.
The 213-page report provided a “descriptive or comparative” analysis in relation to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and as a warning of what might happen if current trajectories with regard to Palestinians continue.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the HRW argued that based on existing international law, the overarching Israeli policy toward Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem constituted an agenda to both maintain Jewish Israeli domination and systematically oppress Palestinians.
“The Israeli government has demonstrated an intent to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians across Israel and the occupied Palestinians territory,” the report stated.
Israel, on its part, has argued that it has the right to defend itself against attacks from Palestinian territories.
Often time, when hostilities start between Israeli troops and Palestinian Hamas militants, civilian casualties are recorded in hundreds, mostly on the Palestinian side.
Rejection by AU member states
Citing the war, some African Union Member States criticised Israel’s observer status. Seven African-Arab countries including Algeria, Egypt, Comoros, Tunisia, Djibouti, Mauritania and Libya reportedly delivered a verbal note to Mr Faki rejecting the admittance of Israel into the AU.
“Taken without the benefit of broad prior consultations with all member states, this decision has neither the vocation nor the capacity to legitimize the practices and behaviors of the said new observer which are totally incompatible with the values, principles, and objectives enshrined in the ‘Constitutive Act of the African Union,” Algerian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“The recent decision of the President of the Commission of the African Union (AU) to welcome a new observer who falls under its administrative prerogatives is not likely to alter the constant and active support of the continental organization to the just Palestinian cause,” the statement read in part.
Similarly, the Namibian international relations minister in an interview with Namibian Sun, said the approval did not meet the basic principles of the AU.
“We are rejecting that approval because it does not meet the basic principles of the African Union, which includes the right to self-determination,” he was quoted as saying.
In the same vein, South Africa called the move “shocking” and said it was “appalled” by the African Union Commission’s decision to grant Israel observer status in the African bloc.
It said the “unjust and unwarranted” move was taken “unilaterally without consultations with its members.”
Another Southern African country, Botswana, said the issue is a “sensitive matter” that should have been brought to the attention of all AU Member States before a decision was reached.
This is also because of the longstanding conflict between Israel and Palestine, Botswana’s ministry of International relations said.
Impact of Israel’s observer status
Israel has maintained that its observer status at AU will enable “greater cooperation” and help its global “counterterrorism” agenda in Africa.
On their part, African countries that oppose the move believe it could be an attempt to influence the continental stance on diplomatic issues.
Analysts fear that Africa may become a more overt arena for Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic competition.
Likewise, issues of migration flows and people smuggling could become increasingly controversial for both Israel and African countries.
Joining AU is seen as a crucial step in Israel’s effort to normalize diplomatic ties with African states like it first did with Sudan and Morocco, as part of the US-backed Abraham Accords, which followed Israel’s normalisation of ties with Chad in 2019.
Israel’s admittance to the AU places it alongside 87 other observer states outside Africa. But unlike the AU, Europe and Asian continental blocs have not granted observer status to any African country.
Similarly, efforts by at least two African countries to join the European Union have been unsuccessful.
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