African Union Suspends Decision on Israel’s Observer Status

The African Union has suspended a debate on whether to withdraw Israel’s accreditation, avoiding a vote that risked creating an unprecedented rift in the 55-member bloc.

One of the diplomats on the closing day of the AU’s annual summit in Addis Ababa stated that “The Israel question has been suspended for now and instead there will be a committee set up to study the issue.”

The relationship with Israel is a serious point of contention for a body that values consensus, with powerful member states, notably South Africa, loudly protesting a decision by Moussa Faki Mahamat, chair of the African Union Commission, to accept Israel’s accreditation to the bloc.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is leading a continental campaign to cancel Israel’s status as an accredited observer at the African Union (AU) this weekend.

This has prompted the South African Jewish community to accuse his government of an “obsession” and “relentless hostility” to Israel. 

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Admittance of Israel’s Observer Status has remained a thorny issue among member states.

The six-member committee will include South Africa and Algeria, who opposed Faki’s move to accredit Israel last July, as well as Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who supported it, according to the diplomats.

Joining over 90 other countries, not all shining examples of democracy which enjoy that status, Israel was accepted as an observer to the AU by the chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat in August 2021.

Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra said “The African Union’s decision to grant Israel an observer status is a double mistake.”

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa wants Israel’s status as an accredited observer at the African Union, cancelled

Israel’s admission followed sustained diplomatic wooing of Africa particularly by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Kenya had been one of the African states pushing most for Israel’s acceptance as an observer.   

Cameroon also asked to be on the committee, while South Africa requested the inclusion of Nigeria as well, the diplomats said.

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There was no immediate information available on the timeline for the committee’s work or when the AU might take up the matter again.

As the summit opened Saturday, Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh urged African leaders to withdraw Israel’s AU accreditation, denouncing its “apartheid regime”.

Member nations such as South Africa said they had not been properly consulted about the decision, which they said contradicted numerous AU statements –including from Faki himself which maintained support for the Palestinian Territories.

South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor complained then that the AU Commission had taken this “unjust and unwarranted decision…unilaterally without consultation with its member states.”

The accreditation handed Israeli diplomats a victory they had been chasing for nearly two decades.

Seventy-two countries, regional blocs and organisations are already accredited, including North Korea, the European Union and UNAIDS, according to the AU’s website.

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The decision was inexplicable as the AU had already strenuously objected to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, which “offends the letter and spirit of the Charter of the AU…especially on issues relating to self-determination and decolonisation,” Pandor stated.

“The world continues to witness some of the most horrific scenes of brutality and violence exercised against Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

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