Historically, Arab nations have maintained strong ties with the African continent. Aside from the fact that several Arab nations are also African, the strong bond between Arabs and Africa has been cemented through religious and cultural values, intersecting a centuries-long struggle against European colonialism and western exploitation.
But these ties have weakened in recent years, as Arab countries have sunk deeper into regional turmoil, grinding wars and foreign interventions. Concomitantly, Israel sought to present itself as a trusted partner to the African continent — the saviour that will rescue it from droughts and food insecurity.
The Israeli gambit, of course, mainly aims at dissuading African leaders from maintaining their historical solidarity with Arab nations, especially their pro-Palestinian stance at the United Nations and other UN-affiliated institutions.
The Israeli diplomatic push in Africa has been underway for years, but had recently accelerated as Israel, desperate to escape international condemnation for its illegal military occupation of Palestine, is fighting back through an elaborate campaign.
Arab governments are only now becoming aware of two alarming facts: Israel’s well-calibrated drive to break African-Arab unity, and its attempt to translate its charm offensives in Africa, Asia and South American to win a UN Security Council (UNSC) seat (temporary).
If Israel obtains the latter, it will be able to sway the general sentiment at the UN to its favour, block UN attempts at holding it accountable for violations of Palestinian human rights and push its regional agenda with full force.
Unsurprisingly, the Arab reaction arrived quite late. On September 12, the Arab League’s Ministerial Council decided to form two committees. “The first is to act in order to counter Israel’s candidacy for a UN Security Council seat for 2019-20 and the second is to search for ways to deal with the Israeli infiltration of the African continent.”
These were the words of Mahmoud Afifi, the spokesperson of the Arab League Secretary-General, during a meeting in New York that brought most Arab foreign ministers together on September 19.
Although delayed, an earnest attempt to counter Israel’s self-serving moves in Africa might not be too late, simply because there is already a strong tide of African leaders who reject the integration of Israel, a country that discriminates against Africans and has no respect for international law. In fact, Israel faced a major setback in recent weeks when the Africa-Israel summit in Togo was cancelled. The summit was scheduled to be held between October 23 and 27, but strong lobbying efforts led by South Africa, Algeria, Sudan, Morocco. Tunisia and Mauritania forced its cancellation.
That aside, Israel’s efforts are relentless.
In his speech to the UN General Assembly last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke proudly of Israel’s outreach to countries all over the world, drawing specific attention to his country’s technologies, especially in the fields of cybersecurity and advanced water technology. The Israeli leader is hoping to utilise that business network in the June 2018 UN vote over an available UNSC seat that places Israel in a three-way race against Germany and Belgium.
Israel’s technological prowess, however, is not the real reason behind Tel Aviv’s new-found confidence. The real reason lies in the administration of United States President Donald Trump and his undaunted support of Netanyahu’s extremist government. One of the main facilitators of Trump’s pro-Israel policy at the UN is Nikki Haley — US Ambassador to UN. She was recently described by the right-wing Israeli newspaper, Jerusalem Post, as “the [Trump] administration’s attack dog on the international stage”. Indeed, Haley has attacked various UN bodies, which she perceived as chronically “biased against Israel”, and waved the cutting-of-funds card to deter the UN from passing any resolution or issuing any statement that is critical of Israel.
Although previous US administrations have also been pro-Israel — after all, former US president Barack Obama gave Israel more money than any other American president in history — never has the bar of expectations been dropped this low.
However, there is a great irony in the fact that Israel is seeking the coveted UNSC seat.
Since its establishment atop the ruins of Palestinian cities and villages in 1948, Israel has had the most precarious relationship with the world’s largest international body. It has desperately sought to be legitimised by the UN, while it has done its utmost to delegitimise that very institution. For years, Israeli leaders and officials have undermined the UN and its various bodies and, with unconditional support from Washington, habitually ignored numerous UN resolutions regarding the illegal occupation of Palestine.
To a certain extent, the Israeli strategy — of using and abusing the UN — has worked. With US vetoes blocking every UN attempt at pressurising Israel to end its military occupation and human rights violations, Israel has had no desire to comply with international law.
But the rise of the Palestine-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement began changing the dynamics of international politics regarding the Israeli occupation. The movement, which began as a call by Palestinian civil society to hold Israel accountable for its violations of Palestinian human rights, grew rapidly to become a global movement. Hundreds of local BDS groups multiplied around the world, joined by artists, academics, union members and elected politicians. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) quickly joined in, declaring its intention to expose the names of companies that must be boycotted for operating in illegal Israeli colonies. The efforts of human rights groups were coupled with repeated condemnations of Israel’s human rights violations, as recorded by the UN cultural agency, Unesco.
A seat for Israel at the UNSC, that is voted on by a majority of the UN General Assembly members, would allow Israel the dual weapon of further legitimising itself (thus, its illegal occupation) and fight back any effort at condemning its illegal practices in Occupied Territories. This suggests that despite the cancellation of the summit in Togo, Israel must continue to woo African leaders.
Last June, Netanyahu visited Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Rwanda. He was accompanied by a large delegation of business executives. Earlier that month, he promised African leaders at the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) summit in Liberia to supply them with agricultural technology that would stave off droughts and food scarcity.
The price? According to African News Agency, “Israeli technology would solve Africa’s most urgent issues — as long as African nations opposed UN resolutions critical of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.” Fortunately, not all African leaders allowed themselves to be manipulated by Tel Aviv.
What Palestinians are counting on at the moment, is the existing historical support that the Palestinian people have among many countries around the world, especially in the global South. Most of these nations have experienced colonisation and military occupation and undergone their own costly and painful liberation struggles. They should not allow a colonialist regime to sit atop the UN, obstructing international law while preaching to the world about democracy and human rights.
Dr Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story.