ADDIS ABABA – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that during his current Africa visit he held a phone conversation with the Muslim head of an African state with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations, and they agreed to meet at a later date.
Netanyahu’s comments came during a briefing with reporters in which he said that his four-country, five-day trip to East Africa is opening doors to other African states as well.
The prime minister would not say who the leader was. He said the phone call was arranged by one of the leaders at the summit he held Monday in Uganda with leaders from Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Zambia, South Sudan and Tanzania.
Israel does not have diplomatic relations with the following sub-Saharan predominantly Muslim states: Mali, Chad, Niger, Guinea, Sudan, Somalia, Mauritania, Djibouti and Comoros.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that various delegations from Mali and Chad visited Israel recently, and other reports this week claimed Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud met secretly with Netanyahu in Tel Aviv in recent months.
Netanyahu said the leader he spoke by phone with was not the Somalian president.
Earlier in the day, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said that his country will work to upgrade Israel’s position at the African Union, and give it the status of an “observer.” Kenya’s president made a similar comment Tuesday, indicating a drive by the countries Netanyahu visited over the last week – Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia – to overcome South African and Algerian opposition to the move.
“The Eastern African corridor has the potential of huge cooperation with Israel, and we need to engage Israel,” Hailemariam said, at a press conference after meeting Netanyahu.
He added that even if there are countries in Africa that disagree with Israel on certain issues, they should not be able to veto the continent’s cooperation with the Jewish state.
Hailemariam thanked Israel for supporting his country’s successful bid for a rotating seat on the UN Security Council next year, saying that Ethiopia will reciprocate by helping Israel in international forums as well.
Asked whether Ethiopia would support a Palestinian statehood bid in the UN Security Council, Hailemariam was noncommittal, saying that his country would judge each issue on its merits. He said that sometimes Ethiopia votes for Israel, sometime it abstains, and sometimes it votes against.
Netanyahu, who met with both Hailemariam and Ethiopian President Mulatu Teshome at the Presidential Palace, said that he raised with Hailemariam the plight of Avera Mengstu, the Israeli of Ethiopian origin held by Hamas in Gaza.
Hailemariam said Ethiopia would do what it could do to secure his release.
Following the meeting, Mulatu gave Netanyahu a tour of the grounds, including a close-up view of the two lions who roam near the palace walls.
Netanyahu, the first prime minister to ever visit Ethiopia, also addressed both houses of that nation’s parliament, where he was greeted warmly.
To applause, he began by sending greetings from Jerusalem, where he said Solomon and Queen Sheba met some 3,000 years ago.
Netanyahu touched during his comments on the historical bonds, and similar values, between Israel and Ethiopia.
“You resisted foreign rule and live as a free people in your ancestral homeland, and we too live as a free and independent people in our ancestral homeland,” he said. “The struggle for freedom unites our two nations.”
Netanyahu, along with Hailemariam, also attended an economic forum with some 300 Israeli and Ethiopian businessmen.
“I have really come here to suggest to you a simple thing, actually to ask you to do one thing: Invest in Ethiopia, invest in Africa. And I say to our Ethiopian friends: Invest in Israeli know-how, invest in Israeli companies,” he said. “This is a partnership made in heaven. It has a long history, but more importantly, it has a brilliant future. Invest in each other.”
Netanyahu is scheduled to fly back to Israel early Friday morning.