The Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Abraham accords are still divisive issues for Africans.
Written by Uriel Araujo, researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts
South Africa (SA) has called for Israel to be declared an “apartheid state”, condemning some of its recent measures. In fact, since the Jewish state’s 2020 peace deal with the UAE and other states, the matter has polarized the Middle East and also Africa in general.
On July 26, in the capital Pretoria, at the second meeting of the Palestinian Heads of Mission in Africa, South Africa’s minister of international relations and cooperation, Naledi Pandor, referring to the occupation of large parts of the West Bank, said that the Palestinian situation “evokes experiences of South Africa’s own history of racial segregation and oppression.” Mentioning a recent UN commission of inquiry, Pandor claimed that the reports point to the fact that “the State of Israel is committing crimes of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians.”
Based on this, Pandor went so far as to say that Pretoria thinks it should be classified as an “Apartheid state”, and that the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) should establish a committee for such a purpose. Later on, speaking to the state-run South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), Riad Malki, the Palestinian Foreign Minister, said that “if there is any country or countries that can comprehend the suffering and the struggle for freedom and independence of Palestine, it is the African continent and the people of Africa.” Pandor, in turn, stated Pretoria will push this cause at the UNGA and urged civil society to join such an effort.
Of all BRICS states, SA is arguably the one which has the worst relations with the Jewish state, and now they seem to be at their lowest level in years. At the July 26 United Nations Security council meeting, South Africa’s representative also raised the issue of Tel Aviv supposedly imposing an “Apartheid system”.
SA has remained a strong ally of Palestine and has consistently supported it on international platforms over the last years. This month, in an ambiguous message, the African National Congress (ANC) party, which has governed SA since 1994, announced it will review its policy towards Israel. It is unclear whether this means a hardening or a softening of its anti-Zionist instance, but many voices in the country are urging the ANC to push the government to close down the Israeli embassy in Pretoria.
The issue of Israel is a contentious one across the continent as well. Last year, when the Jewish state’s return to the African Union (AU) as an observer was being discussed, many key members of the bloc, such as Nigeria, Algeria, and SA itself, vehemently opposed it. Algeria, particularly, formed a bloc for that purpose. Previously, Israel was part of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor organization of AU, but in 2002, when the former was dissolved and the African Union was created, Tel Aviv was deprived of its observer status, after pressures from Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.
In February, the AU condemned Israel for its “relentless pursuit of colonization and annexation measures.” There are indeed obvious ideological and ethical issues underneath these stances on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and such tensions have been polarizing the Middle East, too. They are also highlighted by the recent geopolitical reconfiguration of the very Middle East’s map, which impacts also on the African continent as a whole. This, of course, is all about the process that started with the expansion of the Abraham accords in 2020.
For example, in December 2020, Algerian then Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad denounced the Israel-Morocco deal in strong words, describing it as a “dirty alliance” between authorities in Tel Aviv and Rabab, through which the “Zionist entity” – as he described it – tried to be closer to Algerian borders. The agreement also concerned the Turkish officials in Ankara. These peace deals, in some cases, were followed by closer military ties, as exemplified by the November 2021 joint Israel-UAE-Bahrain naval drills. Such developments have raised some eyebrows across the Middle East and the African continent.
Moreover, previous US President Donal Trump’s recognition of Moroccan claims over the disputed Western Sahara region (maintained by Joe Biden) was a kind of a “quid pro quo” move after Rabat normalized its relations with Tel Aviv. This American controversial decision added fuel to the fire in the region, escalating the Algerian-Moroccan friction, and also increasing tensions across Africa.
One should also keep in mind that SA’s foreign ministry released a statement reiterating its historic support for Palestine in August 2020 shortly after the United Arab Emirates (UEA) normalized its relations with the Jewish state.
The Netanyahu government clearly had an agenda for Africa, and took great efforts to revive its connections to the continent. It is still unclear what Yair Lapid’s new government’s view on the issue is. In any case, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Abraham accords are still divisive issues for Africans.
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