There are those who believe that the African Union's decision to grant Israel observer member, in spite of its crimes against Palestinians, is a natural evolution of relations. This is based on the idea that the decision seeks to merge the two entities' so-called shared interests as the culmination of an extended process of building their bilateral relations. Voiced as an expression of the "will" of a majority of member states of the African Union, this marriage of convenience and short-sighted self-interest, is anchored in a number of entirely arbitrary or fanciful notions:
- The decision was within the unilateral authority of Moussa Faki, head of the African Union Commission;
- The strengthening of the relationship of the African Union with Israel is a necessity, especially after Israel became more integrated into the international community, and after the so-called Abraham Accords "deepened" the connection of a number of Arab states with it;
- The claim that working to isolate Israel will not serve the Palestinian cause, as evidenced by Arab countries that have tried to do so in the past with but limited success;
- The best way, some say, to achieve peace in the Middle East is to seek to strengthen the marginal supporters of the so-called peace process in Israel itself;
- Softening the nature and extent of Israeli human rights violations of Palestinians, under the guise of selective application of international law, arguing others with human rights violations as damning as Israel's are not so vilified;
- Claiming Israel's accession to the African Union will not harm the body's overall solidarity with the Palestinian people, and its absolute support for the Palestinians' right to establish an independent national state with East Jerusalem as its capital; and finally,
- African countries as a whole are in such dire need of the advanced technological, agricultural and security capabilities possessed by the Zionist occupation state as to necessitate political compromise.
These arguments fail to consider the entirety of the historical context of the relationship between the African continent and Israel. A plain read of Israeli-African relations clearly indicates that they were affected, if not determined, by parallel Arab-Israeli interactions. Thus, as statements of principle and solidarity, many African countries severed extant relations with Israel following the Israeli aggressions against Arab countries in 1967 and, then again, in 1973.
Though, to some degree, these countries eventually reconstructed their relations with Israel once Egypt did so in 1978, and following the Madrid Conference of 1991 and the Oslo Accords, it proved to be but a fleeting gesture as Israel was unable to exploit this temporary détente beyond the period when the Organisation of African Unity morphed into the African Union.
Established in 2002 as an extension or alternative to the Organisation of African Unity, the African Union loudly rejected Israel's application for admission on a number of compelling grounds. Among them was its permanent state of aggression and war against the Palestinian people; its overt schemes to Judaise Jerusalem; and its unrelenting illegal settlement and annexation activity in the West Bank. In what can only be seen as a principled stand in support of Palestinian self-determination, justice and liberation, Israel's application to join the African Union was soundly rejected three times in 2013, 2015 and 2016.
Israel links the development of its relations with the AU with its effort to bring about a change in the voting behaviour of African countries in international institutions with regard to Israeli, and in particular in the United Nations General Assembly. This aims at eroding, if not undermining, overall African sympathy and solidarity with the Palestinian cause.
Second, it is a conscious determined effort to sever the natural and just struggle of the Palestinian people against the racist Zionist occupation of our land from Africa's own historical experience with neo-colonial projects. One which necessitated a long and determined struggle throughout Africa against colonial powers and engendered great sacrifice and sensitivity.
This transformation, indeed, factual rewrite of who and what Israel is today occurs at the very time of its increasing violation of our recognised human rights and international law. 2021 has seen an on-going expansion of Israel's grave crimes against Palestinians whether through daily violence; criminal expansion of the occupation and annexation of, to date, some 60 per cent of our lands; its brutal siege of Gaza and its two million people; its supremacist nation-state laws, and a system of race and faith based discrimination so manifestly obvious that international human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Israel's own B'Tselem confirm that Israel is today a full-fledged apartheid state.
To deny this reality is to ignore the truth of the daily life and death of Palestinians and to disregard a growing international community of states and movements, such as BDS, that recognise decades of Palestinian injustice and increasingly seek to show solidarity with us. Following years of trying to reach a real and viable peace with this violent supremacist state on a face-to-face basis and a long and bitter experience from it, increasingly we expand our efforts and hopes today through alliances of international peoples and governments that are informed and sensitised to the racist entity that is Israel. Normalisation, such as that proposed by some in the African Union, does nothing but empower Israel to continue with its indifference to international law and the violation of human rights of millions of Palestinians who remain imprisoned under its occupation. Does Africa wish to become complicit with the same racist and despotic drive which fueled its own suffering at the hands of earlier European colonial projects?
Make no mistake about it, Israel's history with the African continent and its current orientation towards it whether by blanket support of Apartheid in South Africa, fueling the Rwanda genocide, movements into Angola, its mass sale of weapons and surveillance equipment throughout Africa along with the plunder of its natural resources is, at its core, a racist construct aimed primarily at exploiting the continent and its political power and potential.
It is naïve to assume that the African Union will be able to use the privilege of Israel's observer status to move Israel towards equality, justice or peace with the millions of the occupied and oppressed people of Palestine. Since 1948, when it was artificially created from the land of our people, Israeli membership at the United Nations has worked no such deterrence nor accomplished any such end. It is no less naïve to imagine that Israel will not work to sow discord among African countries just the way manipulation by earlier colonial powers sought to enhance their economic and political position by exploiting the continent's domestic and international problems. To Israel, the African continent remains a crown jewel in its effort to remake its filthy past and image. Through this union it seeks to exploit Africa's wealth, natural resources and low cost labour to produce goods with a highly competitive advantage; and to serve as a dumping ground for billions of dollars in weapons and surveillance technologies.
Against the light of this predictable, if not certain, Israeli abuse, it would appear, that one individual has assumed the power to unilaterally override the long-standing collective will of the African Union to deny Israel the honour of participating in its legislative function at the same time that it continues its brutal and deadly occupation of our people and expands daily the reach of its system of Apartheid.
The Palestinian call for boycotting Israel, and imposing sanctions and divestments from it is an essential part of the Palestinians' struggle to achieve justice for themselves, and at the same moment, a warning to others of falling prey to the ambitions of an apartheid state that does not observe any law, moral values or common interests, in order to achieve its entirely self-serving agenda. This is the reason behind the sage and prescient warning of the iconic pioneer of the struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa, Nelson Mandela, when he noted: "We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians."
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.