The African Union Commission has defended the decision to grant Israel AU Observer status, saying it was at the “express demand of many member states.”
The defence by AU Commission Chairman, Moussa Faki Mahamat, follows opposition to the decision by no fewer than 17 countries including South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.
“Following the decision to accredit the representative of the State of Israel to the African Union, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, wishes to recall that this decision falls within his full sphere of competence, without being tied to any preliminary procedure,” the statement said.
The AU granted observer status to Israel on July 22 after 20 years of diplomatic efforts. Israel previously held the role at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), but its bid to regain it after the OAU was dissolved in 2002 and replaced by the AU was rejected.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in a statement described July 22 as “a day of celebration for Israel-Africa relations”, noting that Israel currently has relations with 46 African countries.
The foreign ministry added that the new status could enable Israel and the AU to forge stronger cooperation on various aspects, including the fight against Coronavirus and the prevention “of the spread of extremist terrorism” on the African continent.
But countries objecting to the observer status emphasized that the Palestinian people continue to suffer because of Israel.
Botswana, while rejecting the status granted to Israel, said it is of the view the issue is sensitive and should have been brought to the attention of all AU member states, “particularly given the longstanding conflict between Israel and Palestine”.
“Henceforth, the government of Botswana dissociates itself from the decision to grant observer status by the AU to the State of Israel,” the statement said.
Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, who doubles as Namibia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, said the approval did not meet the basic principles of the AU.
“We are rejecting that approval because it does not meet the basic principles of the African Union, which includes the right to self-determination,” Nandi-Ndaitwah said.
The South African Embassy in Ethiopia asked Faki to explain the rationale behind the decision following rejections in 2013, 2015, and 2016.
“South African recalls that the union has consistently reiterated its support for the Palestinian people in security an independent and sovereign state with East Jerusalem as its capital and called on Israel to respect its international law obligations,” the South African government said.
“Notwithstanding, the powers of the chairperson of the African Union Commission that arise from Part II of the Criteria for Granting Observer Status and for a System of Accreditation within the African Union, this issue is sensitive and consultation with member states should have been undertaken before a decision was made.”
The Algerian foreign ministry said the decision “has neither the vocation nor the capacity to legitimize the practices and behaviours of the said new observer which are totally incompatible with the values, principles, and objectives enshrined in the ‘Constitutive Act of the African Union.”
Faki, however, said that while accepting the accreditation, he clearly stated “the unflinching commitment of the PanAfrican Organisation to the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to establish an independent national state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, within the framework of a global, fair and definitive peace between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine”.
Faki said, however, that the matter will be discussed in the forthcoming session of the Executive Council following the reservation by “a few member states”.
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