At UN, Netanyahu meets 15 African leaders to talk tech, rapprochement
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At UN, Netanyahu meets 15 African leaders to talk tech, rapprochement

Israel’s efforts to rekindle ties throughout the continent, including in Muslim-majority states, looms large at global gathering in NY

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets leaders and representatives of African states on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, September 22, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets leaders and representatives of African states on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, September 22, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with at least 15 leaders and representatives of African countries on Thursday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly gathering in New York.

According to a statement by Netanyahu’s office, the meeting was part of Israel’s continuing bid to renew and rejuvenate ties with African states. These efforts have included high-level visits to African countries in recent weeks, as well as efforts to restore or strengthen ties with several Muslim-majority countries on the continent.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office readout, at the meeting, Netanyahu “told his interlocutors that he believes that Israel could be an amazing partner for their countries. He said that technology changes everything, including in communications, medicine, agriculture and education. He noted that Israel wants to share its technology with African countries.”

Netanyahu reportedly heard in return that other representatives at the gathering “thanked him and Israel for its cooperation in so many fields. They added that this cooperation was very important and would benefit the citizens of Africa and improve their standard of living.”

The meeting was followed by an “Israeli Technology and Innovation for Africa” exhibit attended by Netanyahu and “dozens of African leaders” at which, the statement noted, Netanyahu and his wife Sara “were welcomed with applause.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel's UN envoy Danny Danon meet leaders and representatives of African states on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, September 22, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s UN envoy Danny Danon meet leaders and representatives of African states on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, September 22, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The event brings Israeli tech firms to present their products to African leaders attending the GA.

Israel’s efforts to engage with African governments were a significant part of the Israeli agenda at the GA.

Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold met on Wednesday at the GA with South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who three years ago declared that officials from her country do not engage with Israel.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry confirmed the meeting took place but initially kept mum about its content. Gold tweeted a photo of him shaking hands with Nkoana-Mashabane, who has been Pretoria’s minister of international relations and cooperation since 2009, adding that he was “[e]xploring the ties between our nations.”

“We consider the very fact that this meeting was held an extraordinary achievement,” a senior Foreign Ministry official told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

During the meeting, Gold discussed the importance of South Africa-Israel relations, particularly in the context of Jerusalem’s renewed push to engage with all countries on the continent, the official added.

In 2013, Nkoana-Mashabane said that due to the Palestinians’ plight, South African officials refuse to engage with Israel.

“Ministers of South Africa do not visit Israel currently. Even the Jewish Board of Deputies that we engage with here, they know why our ministers are not going to Israel,” she said at the time.

Nkoana-Mashabane further said that South Africa has “agreed to slow down and curtail senior leadership contact with that regime until things begin to look better… The struggle of the people of Palestine is our struggle,” she declared.

Nkoana-Mashabane’s comments caused a stir, and the South African cabinet later asserted that it had not imposed “a ban on travel to Israel by government officials.”

Relations between Jerusalem and Pretoria have long been fraught over the latter’s harsh criticism of Israeli policies and its staunch support for the Palestinians. Last year, the African National Congress — the country’s ruling party — hosted the leader of Hamas’s political bureau, Khaled Mashaal, a move protested by Israel.

South African President Jacob Zuma is currently in New York, where he addressed the UN General Assembly Wednesday. In his speech, he said that the lack of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “remains a major concern for us.” It is time for the UN to “carry out its historic mission” and help resolve the conflict, which he called one of the “longest outstanding decolonization and occupation issues.”

Gold also met in New York this week with the foreign ministers of Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia and Rwanda.

Earlier this week, Israeli media reports claimed Netanyahu was hoping to meet with the president of Chad at the General Assembly.

The meeting between Netanyahu and Idriss Déby could take place on the sidelines of the GA, Channel 2 reported on Tuesday.

The Muslim-majority Republic of Chad, in central Africa, cut diplomatic ties with Jerusalem in the 1970s. Some 55 percent of Chad’s 13.5 million residents are Muslim. About 40% are Christian.

Last month, Israel’s Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold paid a rare visit to Chad for talks with senior officials.

“Chad is a central country on the African continent,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement at the time. “It is a Muslim, Arabic-speaking country that deals with radical Islamic terrorism and this year holds the rotating chairmanship of the African Union.”

Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold signs a deal to restore diplomatic ties with Guinea on July 20, 2016 (Foreign Ministry)
Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold signs a deal to restore diplomatic ties with Guinea on July 20, 2016 (Foreign Ministry)

Gold’s July 14 meeting came on the heels of Israel’s reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the Republic of Guinea, a small, overwhelmingly Muslim country in west Africa that cut ties with the Jewish state in 1967.

“The number of countries on the African continent that still haven’t [re-established ties with Israel] is steadily decreasing, and we’re hopeful that soon this number will not exist anymore,” Gold said after the July 20 meeting with Ibrahim Khalil Kaba, President Alpha Condé’s chief of staff, in Paris.

Netanyahu has declared the establishment of diplomatic ties with all African nations a strategic goal for his government, and visited sub-Saharan Africa last month.

During his August trip to Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia — the first prime ministerial visit to sub-Saharan Africa in three decades — Netanyahu announced that Tanzania intended to open its first-ever embassy in Israel. He also said the leaders of his host countries vowed publicly to push for Israel to regain observer status at the African Union.

Earlier this year, The Times of Israel reported that Netanyahu recently met with the president of Somalia, Hassan Shekh Mohamud, in the first high-level contact between the two countries. Somalia, a mostly Sunni Muslim country and a member of the Arab League, has never recognized the State of Israel.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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