NAIROBI – Kenya will work to restore Israel’s observer status at the African Union because Israel is a critical partner in the battle against terrorism, the most serious challenge facing the world today, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said Tuesday.
The upgrading of Israel’s status in the pan-African body is critical not for Israel, “but for all those who see this [terrorism] as a common challenge.
This is a battle not won by any nation, but by coming together,” Kenyatta said.
In very warm words, he said it was critical for Africa to re-evaluate its relationship with Israel in order to better enable Africa to deal with its challenges.
Israel lost its observer status at the African Union, formerly known as the Organization of African Unity, in 2002. Libya and other North African Arab countries were primarily behind the move, though in recent years South Africa has blocked attempts to get Israel reinstated.
The Palestinian Authority does enjoy this status, meaning that PA President Mahmoud Abbas may address the body, while Israeli leaders may not.
Netanyahu told reporters he has set breaking the automatic majority against Israel in international forums as a strategic goal for the country, and that upgrading Israel’s position in the African Union will go a long way toward achieving that goal.
Netanyahu noted that when he drove the five minutes on Monday from Entebbe to the Ugandan presidential palace nearby to meet with the leaders of seven east African states – Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zaire and South Sudan – some people lined the streets waving Israeli flags and cheering.
Netanyahu said he told the leaders he met that one person held up a sign that read, “Uganda needs Israel.”
“I said ‘Israel also needs Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, all the countries,’” Netanyahu said.
“We need that alliance, that alliance can gradually change – it will take time, it may take a decade – the automatic majority against Israel. Something that has never been possible in the past.”
The prime minister said his aim was to widen “our circle of ties. If we succeed in making inroads with the 54 countries of Africa, the automatic majority against Israel would fall by the wayside.”
This is something that could have a long-term impact on diplomatic efforts with the Palestinians, he said, claiming that the Palestinians are “running away from direct negotiations” with Israel to various international forums where they believe they will get automatic backing.
If that backing can be removed, he said, the Palestinians would have more of an incentive to deal directly with Israel, since their chances of getting significantly better terms under an international umbrella would be diminished.
Kenyatta firmly backed Israel’s call for direct negotiations, saying: “Dialogue between leaders is important when lives of people are at risk,” adding that Kenya views Israel as a ”critical partner, friend and ally, all the more reason why we desire peace in that part of the world.”
Kenyatta referred to previous difficult relations between Israel and Africa – an apparent reference to Israel’s relationship with apartheid South Africa, which was one fact that soured Israel’s ties with the rest of the continent – saying, “the world has changed, and we cannot live in history.
“We have to be able to live in the future, address ourselves to the challenges of today,” he said at the outdoor press conference in front of his palatial office. “And the one clear fact is that [terrorism is] the biggest challenge we face, not only as a state and continent, but as a community of nations threatened by deranged people who believe in no religion and threaten men, women and children across the globe.”
He said this threat directly impacts on the capacity of countries to further an agenda aimed at improving the daily lot of their citizens “It would be foolhardy to say that faced with those challenges, Africa can’t engage with Israel,” he said. “That would be like an ostrich burying it head.”
Kenyatta noted that Israel today has better relations with its immediate Arab neighbors than ever had before. As such, he said, “Why should we on the African continent say we know better than those in the region?” The Kenyan president, who visited Israel earlier in the year, said Kenya stands to gain a great deal from security cooperation with Israel.
“Kenya has already gained” he said, “from training to strategic thinking,” as well as in the use of technology to fight terrorism.
“Israel has faced this challenge much longer than we as a country or region have,” he said. “We can really practically learn a lot from Israel’s experience.”
Netanyahu, meanwhile, said Africa has no better friend outside of the continent in terms of providing security and development assistance than Israel.
“There may be other friends,” he said, “but none of them exceed Israel in our proven capacity and desire to put our experience in helping African countries struggling against the same adversary and same enemies that want to destroy us, and want to destroy you.”
Kenyatta began his comments by referring to the 40th anniversary of the Entebbe raid on Monday, saying that Kenya – which provided Israel with critical logistical assistance – stood with Israel at that time in “practice and principle.”
And as a country, he added, Kenya paid the price, as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin killed “many of our people” who were living in the neighboring country “as a result of the support we gave.”
The Kenyan president said Entebbe was an example of good will prevailing over evil, “right over wrong.” That event, he added, should be “a source of incredible encouragement and hope to a world increasingly standing together” against terrorism.
On Wednesday morning, Netanyahu is to fly to Rwanda, where he will spend eight hours, before flying to Addis Abba, the last leg of his tour.
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