Africa weighs position on Israeli relations

Saturday May 26 2018

Demonstrators wave Palestinian flags in Paris on May 15, 2018 to protest against the killing of 59 Palestinians the day before when the US formally moved its embassy to Jerusalem. PHOTO | AFP

By The EastAfrican

The controversial opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14 put several African countries in a diplomatic quandary as they weighed between protecting their cordial relations with Israel and toeing the African Union line that supports a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine question.

In East Africa, Kenya and Rwanda have confirmed being among 11 African countries represented at the ceremony that was frowned upon and snubbed by most countries opposed to US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Tanzania has denied media reports that its representative attended the event.

Both Israel and Palestine claim Jerusalem as their capital, and the opening of the US embassy sparked off protests by Palestinians, resulting in the death of at least 59 people.

In Angola, media reported that two senior officials were sacked for attending a gala dinner hosted by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to celebrate the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.

Last week, Rwanda confirmed that its ambassador to Israel Col Joseph Rutabana was among the dignitaries, alongside officials from Angola, Cameroon, Congo Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan and Zambia.

Rwanda’s State Minister of Foreign Affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe, however, said the attendance, as a guest, had nothing to do with the relocation of the mission.


“The location of the US embassy is a sovereign matter of that country. Rwanda has nothing to say about it. We were invited to the event and we honoured the invitation,” Mr Nduhungirehe told The EastAfrican.

Support for two states

On whether Rwanda supports or recognises Palestine as an independent state, Mr Nduhungirehe said Kigali backs the two-state solution.

Rwanda, he said, supports the existence of “two independent states living side by side in peace and security — a viable Palestine and a secure Israel”.

Rwanda remains one of the closest allies of Israel, with President Paul Kagame and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintaining close ties.

In March, Israel Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman visited Kigali and met with President Kagame, Defence Minister Gen James Kabarebe and Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo.

Kenya did not have an ambassador in Israel at the time of the US embassy opening, but was represented at the event by embassy officials.

Last week, Kenya’s Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Macharia Kamau, told the media that the country’s position had not changed. The ministry later issued a statement in which it affirmed its support for the African Union’s two-state solution.

“Kenya recognises the right of Palestinians to self-determination. Having been colonised, fought for independence and attained self-determination, Kenya is, and will always be sympathetic to any entity seeking self-determination,” the statement said.

Earlier, the AU had issued a statement in the wake of the protests in the Gaza Strip, in which it condemned the excessive use of force by Israeli soldiers on protesters.

In solidarity

“The relocation of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem can only further heighten tensions in the region and complicate the search for a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as illustrated by Monday’s incidents,” said AU Commission Chairperson Mahamat Faki.

“The AU affirms solidarity with the Palestinian people in their legitimate quest for an independent and sovereign State with East Jerusalem as its capital,” his statement added, explaining the AU’s position was for a two-state solution.

Meanwhile, Tanzania, which opened its embassy in Ramat Gan, east of Tel Aviv, in early May, said it is targeting economic benefits through bilateral relations with Israel. Minister for Foreign Affairs Augustine Mahiga said Tanzania was not part of the event that attracted protests in Palestine.

Dr Mahiga said that Tanzania is looking to attract Israelis to invest in agriculture, health, industrial technology and tourism.

Tanzania will take part in international dialogues to bring peace between Palestinians and Israelis, he said, adding that the country had not abandoned Palestinians and their pursuit for self-determination. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to visit Tanzania early next year to strengthen renewed friendship between the two countries.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who attended the official opening of the Tanzanian Embassy and who visited Tanzania a month ago, said at the ceremony that she hoped one day to see the Tanzanian flag flying in Jerusalem.

She said Israel was grateful to Tanzania for opening the embassy and hoped that the new embassy would significantly upgrade of Israeli-Tanzanian co-operation.