Israel returns to African Union fold

Friday July 23 2021
Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) elbow-bumps Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid before the start of the weekly cabinet meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on July 19, 2021. PHOTO | AFP


Israel is returning to the African Union (AU) in what officials in Jerusalem say is to correct an anomaly regarding the Middle Eastern country with the continent.

The decision to return to the continental bloc as an observer state has come 19 years after Israel lost the status following a tiff with then Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, soon after the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) became the AU.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced on Thursday that the country had submitted its credentials for Observer Member Status, allowing it to take part in the bloc’s general meetings even though it will not have a vote.

“This diplomatic achievement is a step forward in improving Israel's foreign relations with the continent, following two anomalous decades,” it said in a statement.

“This corrects the anomaly that existed for almost two decades…and is an important part of strengthening the fabric of Israel’s foreign relations. This will help us strengthen our activities in the continent and in the organisation’s member states.”

The move also came after Mousa Faki Mahamat, the Chairperson of the AU Commission, on Thursday received credentials from Aleli Admasu, the Israeli Ambassador to Ethiopia, Burundi and Chad who will now also be accredited to the African Union.


Representation in Africa

The move to rejoin the AU could be Israel’s bid to seek support from the continent, especially as it still has unresolved issues with Palestine.

Palestine was granted Observer Member status at the AU in 2013 and in spite of Israel’s change of its capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2019, the African Union has maintained its support for the Palestinian cause to establish an “independent, viable state” with its capital in East Jerusalem.

In the past decade, Israel has increased its representation in Africa, establishing relations with 46 of 55 members of the AU. The latest moves include resumption of ties with Sudan and Morocco, both of which were brokered by the Donald Trump regime last year. 

Nonetheless, Israel indicated on Thursday that it was resuming ties with the AU to cooperate more on security threats as well as mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

The African Union is only composed of member states from the mainland Africa as well as islands within its waters, such as Madagascar, Cape Verde, Mauritius and Sao Tome and Principe. 

Countries from the Caribbean have in the past been declined full membership based on this argument, as was the case of Haiti in 2016. Instead, the AU routinely allows observer status such as that given to Israel, Palestine and Turkey.