African Union boss Moussa Faki Mahamat has accused member states of “double standards” after the continental bloc deferred a vote on the admission of Israel as an observer state.
Instead, the African Union Commission Chairperson, who had already accepted credentials from a representative of Israel, said his decision was lawful.
Mr Faki launched a vehement defence of his decision, which has been faced with criticism from a number of African countries as well as Palestinian authorities, after he admitted Israel as an Observer state last July.
But the AU chief said he based his decision on the reality on the ground: Most African countries recognised and were doing business with Israel, including recent converts Chad and Sudan, who only recently established diplomatic relations with Israel.
So far, Israel is recognised by 46 of the 55 AU member states and has 17 embassies and 12 consulates in Africa.
“What is this logic that allows a Member State to enjoy the recognition of a State at home and to refuse it to the Organisation, whose overwhelming majority recognises this State?” Faki said on Sunday.
“Is the said State [acceptable] at the national level while it cannot be [accepted] at the African level? Frankly, I would like someone to explain this kind of double standard to me.”
Faki’s speech in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa arose after the African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government on Sunday delayed a formal vote on Israel’s admission, choosing instead to appoint a committee of member states to seek views from members on whether Israel should remain.
The Committee of Heads of State, which includes South Africa, Nigeria, Rwanda, Algeria, Cameroon, DRC and Senegal, are to deliberate on the merit of Faki’s decision to grant observer status to Israel.
South Africa had led the public opposition of Faki’s decision last year, accusing Israel of practicing apartheid against Palestinians.
According to Faki’s office, Israel will retain an observer status, saying “until such time, the Chairperson of the Commission's decision stands.”
The expected vote on Sunday would have been unnecessary had the entire African Union membership accepted Faki’s move to admit Israel last year.
Under a policy adopted in 2005, the African Union Chairperson, as the CEO of the continental bloc, is the legal representative and can admit observer states without first consulting members.
Faki argued that this policy gave him the leeway to admit observer states, and could only be subject to further discussions if it was formally opposed by a member.
“There is no limitation anywhere such as a preliminary procedure, consultations, legal opinion or internal or external policy. The only corollary to this power of assessment and decision of the Chairperson of the Commission is the right of any Member State to subsequently express reservations as considered,” he argued.
“By granting the Observer Status to the State of Israel, I, therefore, acted in full compliance with my prerogatives and powers while respecting the procedure because at the first known reservation I expressed my will to revert to the next session of the Executive Council, which I did.”
Israel had been an observer state under the old Organisation of African Unity (OAU) but was ejected in 2002 following the establishment of the African Union.
Libya, then under Muammar Gaddafi, and Algeria fronted a campaign to eject Israel, accusing it of frustrating Palestine’s path to statehood.
In fact, the AU position is that Israel and Palestine should exist side by side as independent states. Palestine accuses Israel of grabbing its land.
On Saturday, Palestine PM Mohammad Shtayyeh told the AU, “Israel should never be rewarded for its violations and for the apartheid regime it imposes on the #Palestinian people.”
Palestine has been an observer state since 2013.
And although it doesn’t have a vote at the AU, that status allows it the access to lobby for favourable decisions on issues that may affect it.
Palestine, which is also an observer state at the UN, has often been granted a chance to address the Assembly of Heads of State at the African Union.