Israel and Senegal mend fences after UN resolution spat
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Israel and Senegal mend fences after UN resolution spat

Announcement comes after Netanyahu meets with Senegalese leader; PM says presence at conference in Liberia shows Jewish state not isolated

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with Senegal's President Macky Sall in Monrovia, Liberia, June 4, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with Senegal's President Macky Sall in Monrovia, Liberia, June 4, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israel and Senegal on Sunday announced the resumption of full diplomatic relations, which had been frozen after the West African nation cosponsored a UN Security Council against Israeli settlements.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Senegal’s President Macky Sall at the ECOWAS summit of West African leaders in Liberia, after which the two leaders announced the resumption of full ties. Israel will return its ambassador to Senegal, and Senegal will back Israel’s candidacy for observer status at the African Union, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

The leaders also agreed to advance cooperation in defense and agriculture, according to the PMO.

In the wake of the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 in December, Israel recalled its ambassador to Dakar, Paul Hirschson, and canceled its foreign aid programs in Senegal as part of a rash of retaliatory steps against countries that sponsored the measure.

In February, Netanyahu decided not to return Israel’s ambassador to Senegal, extending the downgrading of the Jewish state’s diplomatic ties with the West African country.

The UN resolution, which passed with 14 yes votes and an American abstention, condemned Israeli settlements as having “no legal validity” and “a flagrant violation under international law.” Israel reacted furiously to the resolution, denouncing it as “shameful.”

Also on Sunday, Netanyahu met with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali on the sidelines of the ECOWAS summit. Mali, a Muslim-majority country, does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel. According to the PMO, Netanyahu and Keita agreed to “warm” relations between the two countries.

Taking a dig at the notion that Israel is isolated internationally because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu tweeted a photo of his itinerary of meetings with African leaders scheduled for Sunday, writing sarcastically, “‘Diplomatic isolation,’ Africa edition, 2017.”

Earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu was put in an awkward situation when his scheduled meeting with Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbé was postponed after Israeli security personnel refused to allow the Togolese security detail to enter.

Israeli diplomatic reporters said that a physical altercation between Netanyahu’s bodyguards and those of Gnassingbé led to the cancellation of the meeting between the two leaders at the ECOWAS summit in Monrovia, Liberia.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Togo's President Faure Gnassingbé during the ECOWAS summit in Monrovia, Liberia, June 4, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbé during the ECOWAS summit in Monrovia, Liberia, June 4, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

The PMO later said that the meeting had been rescheduled and was set to take place later in the day.

Prior to leaving for Liberia, Netanyahu said he would use his trip to the ECOWAS summit to try and garner support for Israel at the UN and other international forums.

“The purpose of this trip is to dissolve this majority, this giant bloc of 54 African countries that is the basis of the automatic majority against Israel in the UN and international bodies,” he told journalists Saturday evening ahead of the flight.

Netanyahu said he hoped to use his attendance at the annual conference of the ECOWAS to build off his July 2016 visit to the East African nations of Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia, which marked the first time in decades an Israeli premier had traveled to Africa.

“Israel is returning to Africa in a big way,” the prime minister said Saturday, reiterating a message he repeated throughout his previous trip to the continent.

Netanyahu noted that the trip would mark the first time a non-African leader would speak at ECOWAS — an organization that includes 15 nations with a combined population of some 320 million — which he called a “badge of honor for the State of Israel.”

Alexander Fulbright contributed to this report.

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