By Prince Kurupati
Israel has been readmitted back into the African Union 19 years after it was ousted from the continental bloc. Israel was suspended from being an African Union observer member in 2002 at the time when the Organization of African Unity was rebranded into the African Union. The readmission of Israel into the African Union means it now joins its nemesis Palestine in being an African Union observer member.
The news of Israel’s readmission into the African Union was first publicly conveyed by Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid who in a statement said, “This is a day of celebration for Israel-Africa relations. This diplomatic achievement is the result of efforts by the Foreign Ministry, the African Division, and Israeli embassies on the continent.” Yair Lapid was speaking soon after Israel’s ambassador to Addis Ababa Aleleign Admasu had submitted Israel’s charter to the African Union as an observer member.
In his remarks, Yair Lapid went further to state that “This (rejoining the African Union) corrects the anomaly that existed for almost two decades… and is an important part of strengthening of fabric of Israel’s foreign relations. This will help us strengthen our activities in the continent and in the organization’s member states.”
In the recent past, Israel made attempts to rejoin the African Union but with no success. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2016 became the first Israeli leader in decades to travel to Africa and visit a number of countries – Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia. The recent success as according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry was necessitated by a “diplomatic operation” that involved a visit by the ministry’s director-general of African Affairs Aliza Ben-Noun to Addis Ababa where she met 30 ambassadors from African Union member countries.
According to Aliza Ben-Noun, Israel’s readmission into the African Union will not only help on the economic front but will lend political recognition to the country. “This political recognition is extremely important because it’s not good enough to have good bilateral relations with the member states,” Ben-Noun said.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said the newly established relations between Israel and Africa will help the two to cooperate on areas of mutual interest such as the fight against Covid-19 as well as the fight against terrorism. “Once the relationship with the African Union is established, the parties will be able to cooperate, among other things, in the areas of the fight against the corona virus and the prevention of the spread of extremist terrorism throughout the continent.”
The move to readmit Israel shows the changing geopolitics in North Africa according to Ashok Swain, a professor of peace and conflict research. In a Twitter post, Prof Swain said “Gaddafi had forced Israel out – After 19 years, Israel returns to African Union as Observer. It reflects changing geopolitics in North Africa.”
Some African nationals have expressed skepticism on the decision reached by the African Union to readmit Israel as an observer member. One Twitter user in a post said, “Destabilize of the Middle East has set its eyes on African Union. God save Africa” while another simply tweeted, “What is Israel observing in the AU?”
As an observer member, Israel joins its nemesis Palestine which since 2013 has been officially recognized as an African Union observer member. The African Union since 2013 has been voicing its support for the Palestinian struggle to establish an independent and viable state and the Palestinian leader since 2013 has been addressing the Union. It remains to be seen how the latest decision by the African Union to readmit Israel will affect its relations with Palestine.