Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni (L) speaks to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) during a memorial service to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Operation Entebbe at the Entebbe airport in Uganda, July 4, 2016. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, spearheading an intense Israeli diplomatic initiative in Africa, is expected to travel to Abuja, Nigeria, by the end of the year to take part in a summit of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Netanyahu returned from a four-day, four-country visit to east Africa earlier this month, where he met with leaders from seven East African countries at a summit in Uganda.
On Thursday, the prime minister met in his office with Marcel Alain de Souza, president of ECOWAS.
The two men signed a joint declaration of intent for greater cooperation between Israel and the organization, which represents countries that have a combined population of some 320 million. The declaration states that both parties “positively view the participation of the prime minister of the State of Israel in the ECOWAS summit in the near future.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently addressed the African Union summit in Rwanda, a privilege not given Netanyahu because, unlike the PA, Israel does not have observer status in that organization.
During Netanyahu’s recent trip to Africa, the leaders of Kenya and Ethiopia publicly pledged to rectify that situation.
Among the 15 countries in ECOWAS are two with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations: Niger and Mali.
Earlier this month, Israel reestablished diplomatic ties with Guinea, which is another ECOWAS state.
Foreign Ministry director- general Dore Gold said this group “is one of the most important sub-regional organizations in Africa, and it brings the prime minister’s [Africa] initiative, that started with east African countries like Kenya and Ethiopia, to the western part of the continent.”
Gold said that de Souza, from Benin, does not take action without consulting other member states, and he did not know whether de Souza had specifically called the leaders of Niger and Mali before embarking on his visit to Israel.
During their meeting, Netanyahu and de Souza discussed deepening their cooperation, particularly in the fields of agriculture, desertification, water, education and health.
Security issues were also raised, and in the declaration of intent, Israel stated that “it stands with the people of the ECOWAS countries in their ongoing battle against militant terrorism that is plaguing Africa.” The Islamic State-affiliated Boko Haram organization is very active in western Africa, particularly Nigeria.
This was the first-ever meeting between an Israeli prime minister and the president of ECOWAS, even though Israel has had a relationship with the organization for the past decade.
In addition to Guinea, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, ECOWAS is made up of the following states: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.