Shtayyeh calls on African Union to oust Israel, charges it with apartheid

Leaders at the African Union summit discussed Israel's observer status at the AU, showing apparent rifts over ties with Israel.

  African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat arrives for a meeting at the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, February 10, 2020. (photo credit: TIKSA NEGERI / REUTERS)
African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat arrives for a meeting at the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, February 10, 2020.
(photo credit: TIKSA NEGERI / REUTERS)

The African Union must rescind Israel’s observer status, particularly given that it’s guilty of the crime of apartheid, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Muhammed Shtayyeh stated when he addressed the AU’s summit in Addis Ababa.

“We call for the withdrawal and objection of Israel’s observer status at the African Union,” Shtayyeh said.

The 55-member bloc was created in 2002, with Israel as an observer-state, but it was ousted just one year later. It is in danger of losing its new found status, which it regained only last year.

It is likely that a vote on the matter could take place on Sunday, which is the last day of the summit.

“The time is right to condemn Israel for its crimes of persecution and apartheid,” Shtayyeh told the AU.

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaking in a press conference on the new COVID variant discovered in South Africa on Friday, November 26, 2021 (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO) Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaking in a press conference on the new COVID variant discovered in South Africa on Friday, November 26, 2021 (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

To back up his charge, he spoke of three reports on the matter issued by left-wing NGOs: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem.

The prime minister quoted from Amnesty’s report issued last week, which stated that “almost all of Israel’s civilian administration and military authorities, as well as governmental and quasi-governmental institutions, are involved in the enforcement of the system of apartheid against Palestinians across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territory.”

Israel’s observer status in the AU gives it the message that it can continue to violate international law with impunity, he said.

At the summit, AU Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat Faki defended his decision last year to unilaterally accept Israel’s request for observer status at the union, a step that bolsters Israeli ties with the organization.

South Africa, where the ruling party strongly backs the Palestinian cause, has criticized that move.

Along with Nigeria, Algeria and a Southern African regional bloc, South Africa is pushing for Israel’s status to be revoked, according to an internal memo prepared for the summit and seen by Reuters.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, Morocco and several other countries support Israel’s presence, one African diplomat said.

Some observers fear the Israel dispute is shifting attention from pressing issues like the conflict in Ethiopia and unrest in Sudan following a coup in October.

“It’s been difficult to discuss Ethiopia at the AU level over the last 15 months, let alone have a discussion that is meaningful on issues of state-sponsored abuses, protection and justice,” said Caribe Kaneza Nantulya, Africa advocacy director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addressed the leaders by video link and repeated calls for a ceasefire in the Ethiopian conflict, which broke out in November 2020 and has killed thousands.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed used his speech to call for a permanent seat for Africa on the UN Security Council and urged the AU to form a continental media house to counter “negative media representation of Africa.”

The AU’s efforts to combat the pandemic are also on the summit’s agenda.

After wealthy countries hoarded COVID-19 vaccines for months last year, African nations finally began receiving larger supplies by November. But the region is far behind global vaccination targets, partly due to logistical challenges.

Governments hope the creation last year of a continent-wide drug regulator, the African Medicines Agency (AMA), might help Africa combat inequities with other regions.