Middle East Monitor / February 17, 2022
African Heads of States and governments meeting at the African Union’s Summit (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 5 February decided to revoke Israel’s observer status to the continental bloc. The decision came after hard lobbying by many countries, led by Algeria and South Africa and supported by Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and many other African States.
Last July, Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Chairman of the AU Commission, acting on his own and without any consultations, surprised many governments across Africa when it emerged that he had granted the apartheid state of Israel an observer status, while members were kept in the dark. Moussa Faki, former Chadian Prime Minister, angered many AU members and raised questions about his own motive. Many African commentators believe he wants to return to his former job in Chad, and such a step might help his ambitions.
The reaction to his move, across the continent, was one of dismay, condemnation and rejection. South Africa, last year, issued a statement denouncing it and rejecting the mostly ceremonial step taken by Faki. It said that South Africa was “appalled” by the Commissioner’s decision to grant Israel an observer status, describing it as a “unilateral” decision, taken without proper consultations with AU member States.
In August, 2021, Commissioner Faki issued a statement, in an attempt to justify his decision, in which he said that he took the controversial step because it falls within his prerogative as a Commissioner, without the need to seek approval from member States. Citing the fact that many AU member States have diplomatic relations with Israel, Mr. Faki went on to say that many AU “member States demanded” the restoration of diplomatic relations with Israel. He, however, did not say which countries these were. During the Summit session, last week, not a single AU member defended his decision.
It is true that some African countries have established ties with Israel, thanks to the encouragement of former United States President, Donald Trump, which saw Sudan and Chad opening contacts with Israel and the resumption of diplomatic contacts. However, many AU members reject the claim that, since Israel enjoys good relations with some African countries, then for it to join the AU as an observer is only a logical outcome. Many African countries and commentators believe the two are different matters.
Any AU member is free to welcome the Jewish State as a partner but when it comes to the AU, as an Organization, this is another issue. The Organization’s Charter, as a historical document, cherishes everything that Israel does not. We should remember that the AU was founded as the development of the former Organization of African Unity (OAU), after updating its Charter while keeping its main principles. One such principle is the fact that the OAU was founded in 1963, with the aim of liberating Africa. At the time, only 32 African States gained independence from colonial powers like France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. Welcoming colonial Israel is against this universal principle.
The Charter, in its preamble, says that member States are to “fight against neo-colonialism in all its forms”. This means countries like Israel cannot be accepted, even as an observer since it is, indeed, a form of “neo-colonialism” that came into existence on an occupied land whose people have been forced into refugee camps around the world and in their own land. It is inconceivable for the AU to see Israel other than what it really is: an apartheid state, built on the miseries of millions of Palestinians who have endured its apartheid policies every day, over the last seven decades. The OAU Charter in article III, describing its principles, says that it unreservedly condemns all “forms, of political assassination as well as of subversive activities”. Assassinations of Palestinian political leaders have been standard Israeli policy, while Israeli subversion against Palestinians has never stopped.
If anything, this disqualifies Israel from joining the AU, even as an observer, simply because, as South Africa has said, it offends “the letter and spirit of the Charter of the African Union”. Above all, it is scandalously insulting to the AU to welcome Israel because it is a reminder of South Africa’s apartheid regime, which considered the black majority as less humans; something Palestinians face every day—Israel has successfully given the apartheid system a new life.
Israeli has never given up trying to access the AU in a formal way and, between 2013 and 2016, its request for observer status was rejected three times. Furthermore, Israel, as an oppressive colonial power, has never changed since then, but became even more damaging to Palestinians. This should have been abundantly clear to Mr. Faki before making his decision.
Surprisingly enough, during the Summit on 6 February, Mr. Faki attempted to explain his decision, this time not by citing his powers as Commissioner. Instead, he cited his action as being to “promote the interests of the [African] Union” and to reinforce the positions of its Member States internationally, without explaining how his decision actually helps that objective?
The issue is very likely to be reviewed by the relevant AU bodies and will be presented to the next AU Summit next year. For Algeria and South Africa, who lobbied AU members to revoke Israel’s observer status, now is not the time to claim victory and relax. On the contrary, both countries, along with others like Egypt, Libya, Namibia and Tunisia, need to be vigilant and make sure that all AU fellow members understand why Israel in the AU is an insult to every member, before being disadvantageous to the Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority also has a role to play, from now until the next AU summit. It should increase its reach to all AU countries with one message: that Israel should not be rewarded for its systematic violations of Palestinians’ basic human right. Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh told African members at the Summit last week in Addis Ababa, that his people’s situation has only “grown more precarious” and this warrants condemnation of Israel, not rewarding it. This is the kind of message that should be repeated, again and again, until next February’s AU summit.
Mustafa Fetouri is a Libyan academic and freelance journalist