Axing of Africa-Israel summit loosens ties
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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