Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu views lion during visit to Ethiopia.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDON / GPO)
‘We are deepening our relationship with Africa, because it is the right thing to do and because there are economic benefits for both sides.
But Israel will also be sure to leverage these important relationships to ensure that it is finally treated fairly at the UN, as a full member state with the rights and privileges afforded to all other nations,’ Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon wrote in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal this week following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Africa.
Deepening ties with Africa certainly makes a lot of sense for Israel, as it seeks to widen its circle of friends, expand its trade ties and reduce its reliance on Europe. The same logic stands behind Israel’s pivot to Asia.
In January, when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo visited Israel, Netanyahu said that Israel must expand ties with Asia as Europe is awash in a “wave of Islamization, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.”
Yet when it comes to voting patterns at the United Nations, Danon may be jumping the gun. Netanyahu, too, spoke of using ties with African countries to change the automatic majorities against Israel at the organization, but was more circumspect.
“It will take time – but we have set a goal. It might take a decade, but we will change the automatic majority against Israel,” he told reporters during his African tour.
Resurgent ties with Africa have already paid dividends on the diplomatic front, for example at last September’s vote at the International Atomic Energy Agency, when an Egyptian motion demanding Israel open up its nuclear facilities to inspection was voted down with the help of several African countries that voted no or abstained or didn’t show up.
One of the ways that Israel hopes to influence African voting patterns and increase its presence on the continent is by seeking observer status at the African Union, which “Palestine” already enjoys and which would give Israeli diplomats the opportunity to address the forum.
Arye Oded, a diplomatic service veteran who spent years in Africa, was instrumental in the renewal of ties with Uganda, Zambia, Mauritius, Seychelles and Tanzania. He is now head of the Africa Unit at the Harry S.
Truman Institute in Jerusalem and is pessimistic about the chances of that happening.
Oded clarifies that Israel in fact never had observer status at the African Union’s predecessor, the Organization of African Unity, but instead held invited guest status, which enabled its diplomats to attend the forum without being able to address it.w Israel has been trying to regain its invited guest status for some time, Oded explains, adding that even that would be a diplomatic achievement.
South Africa, despite a certain improvement in relations, remains opposed to Israel receiving observer status, as of course do the Arab and Muslim nations of North Africa.
Non-African Arab countries are also influential in the AU via bodies such as the Arab Bank for Economic Development of Africa. While East African countries face the threat of Islamic terrorism and may vote in Israel’s favor given their thirst for Israeli security know-how, it remains to be seen whether that will be enough to tip the scales in Israel’s favor.
As Netanyahu noted, the road ahead is likely to be long, perhaps much longer than the prime minister envisions. Israel and China will soon mark 25 years of diplomatic relations and ties and trade are blooming, but that has not swayed Beijing’s voting patterns.
The same goes for ties with India. While trade grows exponentially, high-level visits have been exchanged, but despite the ideological affinity between Netanyahu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India, too, has not changed its voting patterns. Despite abstaining last summer at two anti-Israel votes at the UN giving rise to speculation it would end its automatic support for the Palestinians at the world body, it has returned to a delicate tightrope walk of Palestinian solidarity and strong ties with Arab nations while expanding relations with Israel.
That is a pattern that may well play out in Africa as well.
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