Israel Returns to Africa

September 2, 2021 | J. Peter Pham
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Prior to 1967, Jerusalem had diplomatic relations with over 30 African nations; in the 1970s, that number fell to merely three. But in recent years, the Jewish state has been gradually restoring its ties to the continent—fulfilling the visions of Golda Meir and Theodor Herzl. A major step forward occurred in July, when Israel was given observer status in the African Union (AU). J. Peter Pham writes:

Currently, of the 55 members of the African Union, 46 have diplomatic relations with Israel, the most recent diplomatic ties being with Sudan and Morocco, achieved in the framework of the Abraham Accords brokered by the U.S. during the Trump administration.

For years, Benjamin Netanyahu lobbied to get Israel back into the AU as an observer, although the step was only achieved after he had been replaced as prime minister by Naftali Bennett. Even with the break in bilateral relations with many African states following the Yom Kippur War, Israel had maintained its status as an observer with the AU’s predecessor, the Organization of African Unity (OAU). However, when the OAU was dissolved and replaced by the more robust AU in 2002, the late Libyan dictator Moammar Ghadaffi, who was one of the driving forces behind the establishment of the new organization, . . . used his influence to prevent the status from carrying over.

In contrast, “Palestine” was admitted as an observer in 2013, resulting, on occasion, in anti-Israel resolutions being introduced without Israeli representatives being able to respond.

It is perhaps not surprising that the return of Israel to the AU comes in the midst of the term of the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Félix Tshisekedi, as head of the African Union. Last year, addressing the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington, Tshisekedi . . . explained his deep regard for Israel: “This nation is a source of inspiration. It teaches us what man can do in such a short span of time when he has drive, resilience, and, especially, divine grace and favor.”

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