Ax­ing of Africa-Is­rael sum­mit loosens ties

CityPress - - Voices - Them­bisa Fakude voices@city­press.co.za

Six­teen years ago, Septem­ber was a bad month for Is­rael in Africa. His­tory is re­peat­ing it­self. At the UN World Con­fer­ence Against Racism, held in Dur­ban, KwaZulu-Na­tal, in 2001, Is­rael suf­fered a po­lit­i­cal blow af­ter a draft dec­la­ra­tion equated Zion­ism with racism. In re­sponse, Is­raeli and US del­e­gates staged a walk­out.

The out­come of that con­fer­ence was re­garded as a se­ri­ous set­back for proIs­raeli forces in at­ten­dance.

On Monday, the or­gan­is­ers of the first Africa-Is­rael Sum­mit, sched­uled to take place in Lome, Togo, next month, an­nounced that the con­fer­ence had been “post­poned in­def­i­nitely”.

Billed by Is­raeli diplo­mats as an op­por­tu­nity for eco­nomic growth and devel­op­ment, the sum­mit was seen as the cen­tre­piece of Is­rael’s at­tempt to re­de­fine and re­vive ties with African na­tions.

These ties fell into a diplo­matic freeze af­ter the 1973 Yom Kip­pur War, when a coali­tion of Arab states tried to fight Is­rael’s oc­cu­pa­tion of Egyp­tian, Syr­ian and Pales­tinian land.

Is­rael reached the low­est point of its re­la­tions with Africa two years later, when the then Or­gan­i­sa­tion of African Unity adopted Res­o­lu­tion 77, declar­ing that Pales­tine’s oc­cu­piers (Is­rael) shared the same racist and im­pe­ri­al­ist poli­cies as regimes in Rhode­sia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa.

Re­viv­ing ties with Africa is an es­sen­tial part of Is­rael’s global sur­vival strat­egy in the wake of grow­ing con­dem­na­tion of its 50-year il­le­gal oc­cu­pa­tion of Pales­tinian land, its de­nial of Pales­tinian self­de­ter­mi­na­tion and its prac­tice of what has been termed apartheid poli­cies against Pales­tini­ans in the oc­cu­pied Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries.

But in the past two years, Is­rael has been en­gaged in an ag­gres­sive charm of­fen­sive in Africa un­der the slo­gan, Is­rael is re­turn­ing to Africa.

Since it was an­nounced that the AfricaIs­rael Sum­mit would take place, the event at­tracted con­tro­versy and di­vi­sive­ness. Crit­ics ar­gued that Is­rael had un­der­mined the African Union (AU) and that any Pan-African po­lit­i­cal gath­er­ing should in­volve, and take its cue, from the AU rather than one par­tic­u­lar coun­try.

The choice of Togo as the host coun­try was seen as po­lit­i­cal op­por­tunism on Is­rael’s part. It is plain to see that the regime of Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu was cap­i­tal­is­ing on a weak govern­ment, hop­ing to be res­cued from its own in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal chal­lenges.

The To­golese govern­ment, in turn, was hop­ing to use Is­rael’s eco­nomic pledges to stretch its po­lit­i­cal ten­ure, pacify po­lit­i­cal rum­blings in the coun­try and weaken po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion.

For Is­rael, it is all about the num­bers. The 54 African coun­tries mat­ter when it comes to vot­ing at var­i­ous global po­lit­i­cal plat­forms, es­pe­cially the UN.

Apart from UN votes, Is­rael is also on the hunt for African part­ners to lobby the AU to grant Is­rael ob­server sta­tus. Do­ing so will en­hance Is­rael’s re­la­tion­ship with African states and al­low it to in­flu­ence their vot­ing be­hav­iour at mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions.

Is­rael al­ready has a sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence in east and west Africa, and is queu­ing up to ex­ploit African eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties.

How­ever, Is­rael’s 50year-long oc­cu­pa­tion of Pales­tine, and its apartheid poli­cies against the Pales­tini­ans, re­main an ob­sta­cle to its ex­pan­sion in Africa.

The host­ing of a Pan-African sum­mit in a small coun­try that has a long track record of dic­ta­tor­ship and so­ciopo­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity is noth­ing short of ar­ro­gant on Is­rael’s part.

The post­pone­ment of the con­fer­ence is cer­tainly a se­ri­ous diplo­matic set­back for Is­rael. How­ever, we can­not ig­nore those coun­tries that were will­ing to at­tend, es­pe­cially mem­bers of the Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity of West African States.

The Africa-Is­rael Sum­mit has ex­posed im­por­tant fac­tors in the devel­op­ment of African pol­i­tics. The larger ques­tion now is whether this is the last charm of­fen­sive at­tempt by Is­rael in Africa. If not, how are African lead­ers go­ing to re­act the next time Is­rael comes knock­ing? Will the post­pone­ment strengthen the AU, or are African coun­tries go­ing to be­gin to overtly em­brace stand-alone for­eign poli­cies? What will this mean for the AU, given its stance on main­tain­ing a united po­si­tion re­gard­ing African for­eign pol­icy?

Fakude is an in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions an­a­lyst at the Al Jazeera Cen­tre for Stud­ies. Fol­low

him on Twit­ter @fakudet. The unedited ver­sion of this ar­ti­cle ap­pears on the Mid­dle East Mon­i­tor web­site: mid­dleeast­mon­i­tor.com

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