Analysis: Israel’s Bid For AU Observer Seat Could Divide Africa

Written by Kevin Mwanza

Israel bid  to get an observer seat at the African Union (AU) is threatening to divide the union with Kenya and Ethiopia supporting the bid, while South African and Egypt may be against it.

In the first official visit by an Israeli prime minister to African in nearly 30 years, Benjamin Netanyahu sought to drum up support from East African countries — Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda —  for an observer status at the continental body.

At the end of the four-nation visit both Ethiopia and Kenya expressed support for the Israeli claim to forge new alliances in Africa, AFP reported.

Observer status would allow Israel to engage with the AU as a whole.

“Israel is working very hard in many African countries. There is no reason to deny this observer position to Israel,” said Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, said.

Ethiopia’s ascent to the a temporary seat at the United Nations Security Council and Kenya’s status as the largest economy in East Africa gives them a strategic and economic importance in helping push for Israel’s claim.

At present Israel has diplomatic ties with 11 of the 54 member states of the AU.

It has for some time been trying to secure AU observer status along with countries like India, Brazil, Turkey, China and Japan, as well as the EU, Middle East Monitor reported.

But as the Middle Eastern nation joins a growing list of countries keen to increase their involvement in Africa, there are other countries on the continent that are opposed to them getting a seat at the AU.

South Africa stands out as one of the main opponents of moves to grant Israel an observer’s seat at the AU.

Last month, the Western Cape branch of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) issued a statement condemning the country’s Democratic Alliance for its continued support for Israel.

“We are more shocked,” it read, “given that this is happening in a province where just over 200,000 South Africans marched against Israeli Apartheid and its oppression against the Palestinians.”

ANC said that it remains resolute in its solidarity with, and support for, the people of Palestine.

Egypt is another AU member that could be opposed to Israel’s bid.

Netanyahu’s visit to a number of countries in the Nile River basin has stirred up curiosity in Egypt concerning the goals of this visit, which coincided with the approaching conclusion of construction on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia.

The construction of the dam has over the years precipitated a crisis between Cairo and Addis Ababa. Israel’s visit to Ethiopia is seen as a move against Egypt’s interest.

“Israel is attempting to increase its influence by adopting a policy of ‘pulling in old parties’ against Egypt and Sudan in particular,” Atiyah Isawi, a journalist specialized in African Affairs at Al-Ahram newspaper, told Al-Monitor.

“Israel will use these good relations with African states to pressure Egypt when any Israeli-Egyptian dispute of merits it. This might influence Cairo’s interests in the continent, particularly the crisis over the dam.”

The growing ties between Israel and African countries is also about seeking the continent’s help in getting votes at the UN to stop Palestine from getting influence at the world body, which recognized Palestine as a nonmember observer state in 2012 and has continuously condemned Israel’s construction of settlements in the West Bank and the blockade of the Gaza Strip .