By Opinion 20h ago
By Yusuf Umer
Israel’s accreditation to the African Union (AU) threatens the continent’s unity organization.
At least a dozen member states have, so far, formally objected to last month’s decision by the AU Commission chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, to accept the credentials of Israel’s ambassador to Ethiopia, Aleli Admasu.
Mahamat’s decision effectively granted Israel observer status at the AU – a position that Israel has been desperately pursuing for almost 20 years.
As a result of these objections, the issue will now be included on the agenda of the next AU executive council meeting in October. Many more countries are expected to verbally object at that meeting.
The crux of most objections is that Mahamat’s decision was taken without consulting the AU’s 55 member states. In fact, most member states only found out that Israel had been granted observer status at the AU through a press release on the organisation’s website, and through subsequent reports in the media.
South Africa was one of the first countries to call out Mahamat’s unilateralism. Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Mozambique then followed, and highlighted that Israel continues to occupy Palestine, and that nothing had changed since the AU had rejected Israel’s previous applications for observer status in 2013, 2015 and 2016.
The embassies of Mauritania, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Comoros and Djibouti jointly submitted an objection to the AU, arguing that Mahamat’s actions had violated the AU’s procedures and principles. Israel, they pointed out, was still an occupying power whose actions were not in conformity with the spirit, objectives and principles of the Constitutive Act of the AU.
Mahamat responded to the criticism by saying that his decision fell within his ambit of competence. He further claimed that since Israel had diplomatic relations with more than two-thirds of AU member states and that some member states had supported Israel being at the AU, he was justified in granting Israel observer status.
In an attempt to save face, Mahamat added that he had reiterated to Admasu the AU’s commitment to the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people to an independent national state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Israel’s attempts to gain support and influence in Africa have always been polarizing among AU member states. However, Mahamat’s decision to grant Israel observer status has widened the rift in the AU, especially now that the entire Southern African Development Community (SADC) bloc have collectively “expressed concern and objected to the unilateral decision taken by the African Union Commission to grant the State of Israel observer status to the African Union. This is according to a communiqué released by SADC following the conclusion of its summit on 18 August in the Malawian capital, Lilongwe.
This isn’t about whether Israeli diplomatic missions exist in African countries that are averse to the AU Commissioner’s decision. South Africa, for instance, inherited relationships with Israel from its apartheid predecessors. It now finds its relationship untenable under current conditions. Such countries want an AU where they would be freer to chart some foreign policy objectives.
But Israel too has its objectives. In 2017, then Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, met the heads of state of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and sought Israel’s reinstatement of its observer status that it lost when the Organization of African Unity (OAU) changed to the AU in 2002.
Israel had troubled relationships with member states of the OAU when Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights in 1967 and again after its 1973 war with a coalition of Arab states. AU members viewed Israel as an occupying power and most African countries broke off diplomatic ties.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry claims that AU observer status will help with co-operation in the fight against coronavirus and terrorism. That is not true. For years, Israeli leaders have openly said that observer status at the AU is important to influence African nations’ foreign policy, and that it needs to break down Africa’s support for Palestine. African votes would replace the waning European support at international forums like the United Nations.
Israel’s celebration of its accreditation at the AU might prove to be premature since the matter is far from decided. Now that it will be discussed at the next executive meeting, it possibly has a long way to go at the AU.
However the more important goal of salvaging the AU from disintegrating falls on Moussa Faki Mahamat’s shoulders. More than anything, the AU must stay true to its stated aim of being a champion of human rights, both in Africa and around the world.
* Yusuf Umer is a human rights activist based in Nairobi, and a member of the Kenyan Palestine Solidarity Movement (KPSM). Find him on Twitter: @Yusuf40545151
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media