Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Thursday with at least 15 African leaders and their representatives at a closed-door meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly gathering in New York.
“Africa excites our imagination,” he told the leaders, according to the Jerusalem Post. “We would like to propose a friendship and a partnership with every one of your countries.”
Netanyahu said he plans a visit to west Africa later this year following his July visit to East Africa.
The meeting was part of Israel’s continuing efforts to renew ties with African countries, according to a statement by Netanyahu’s office, Times Of Israel reported.
Netanyahu visited East Africa in July, and said he wants to restore or strengthen ties with Muslim-majority countries on the continent.
His visit to Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia was the first by an Israeli prime minister to sub-Saharan Africa in 30 years. During that visit, Netanyahu said that Tanzania planned to open its first-ever embassy in Israel. He also said the leaders of his host countries had promised to push for Israel to regain observer status at the African Union.
In all his years of public service, Netanyahu said “I never had a foreign trip as stirring, as moving as the one I had to Africa,” The Tower reported. “It was a personal odyssey as my brother died at the rescue at Entebbe. That was a very moving ceremony organized by the president of Uganda. But I also had the opportunity there, beyond the personal, to meet with the leaders from seven African countries … One of them, President Kagame (of Rwanda), gave us … a tremendous reception.”
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Netanyahu said he plans to visit West Africa later this year, “But I don’t intent to limit myself to East Africa or West Africa. Israel is looking at all of Africa,” he said. “And I hope that all of Africa looks at Israel.”
“The number of countries on the African continent that still haven’t (re-established ties with Israel) is steadily decreasing, and we’re hopeful that soon this number will not exist anymore,” Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold said after a meeting in Paris on July 20 with Ibrahim Khalil Kaba, chief of staff for Guinean President Alpha Condé.
The predominantly Muslim West African Republic of Guinea cut ties with the Jewish state in 1967.
Gold also met in New York this week with the foreign ministers of Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia and Rwanda.
Israeli media reported earlier this week that Netanyahu hoped to meet with the president of Chad at the general assembly. Gold visited Chad for talks with senior officials in August. The Muslim-majority Central African country cut diplomatic ties with Israel in the 1970s.
About 55 percent of Chad’s 13.5 million residents are Muslim and 40 percent are Christian. “It is a Muslim, Arabic-speaking country that deals with radical Islamic terrorism and this year holds the rotating chairmanship of the African Union,” Gold said at the time.
Earlier this year, The Times of Israel reported that Netanyahu met with the president of Somalia, Hassan Shekh Mohamud, in the first high-level contact between the two countries. Somalia, a mostly Sunni Muslim country and a member of the Arab League, has never recognized the State of Israel.
Netanyahu also met on Wednesday with Mackey Sall, president of the predominantly Muslim Senegal. The two leaders exchanged invitations to visit each other’s countries, according to The Tower.
Gold met Wednesday with South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane at the general assembly. In 2013 Nkoana-Mashabane said that officials from her country do not engage with Israel due to the Palestinians’ plight. “The struggle of the people of Palestine is our struggle,” she said.
Relations between Israel and South Africa have been strained over the SA’s support for the Palestinians and criticism of Israeli policies. In 2015, the ruling African National Congress played host to Khaled Mashaal, leader of Hamas’s political bureau. Israel protested the move.
In a bid to counter Israeli diplomatic successes in Africa, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met in August with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, according to a report in The Tower. Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity.
Bashir and Abbas “discussed developing a strategy for the African continent and coordinating to restrain Israeli attempts to make a breakthrough in Africa,” the Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister told reporters in Khartoum.
Gold tweeted a photo of himself shaking hands with Nkoana-Mashabane, who has been Pretoria’s minister of international relations and cooperation since 2009, Times of Israel reported. Gold said he was exploring “the ties between our nations.”
“We consider the very fact that this meeting was held an extraordinary achievement,” a senior Foreign Ministry official told The Times of Israel on Thursday.
At the general assembly meeting this week, Netanyahu said Israel wants to share its technology with African countries. “Technology changes everything,” he said, including in communications, medicine, agriculture and education. He said he believes Israel “could be an amazing partner.”
Israeli tech, solar and medical firms showcased their products to African leaders attending the general assembly. These included a mobile mini farm, an atmospheric water generator and a cancer-detecting medical device.
Energyia Global Capital, a Jerusalem-based solar and social development enterprise, said it has signed deals to deploy $250 million in commercial solar energy fields in Africa in the next 12 months, Forward reported.
Energyi CEO Yosef Abramowitz said the firm is prepared to invest $2 billion over the next four years through the U.S. Power Africa program, with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020. The company launched East Africa’s first solar field in February 2015 in Rwanda.