PM heads to West African summit seeking support at UN
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PM heads to West African summit seeking support at UN

Netanyahu will be first non-African leader to address ECOWAS conference; Moroccan king to boycott over 'context of tension and controversy'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara boarding the airplane to New York for an official state visit to the US, September 20, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara boarding the airplane to New York for an official state visit to the US, September 20, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu departed Israel Saturday night to take part in a summit of West African nations in Liberia’s capital of Monrovia, saying that he would use the trip to try and garner their 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,” the prime minister told journalists ahead of the flight.

Netanyahu said he hopes to use his attendance at the annual conference of the Economic Community of West African States (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 marks the first time a non-African leader will 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.”

Moroccan King Mohamed VI in 2016 (YouTube screenshot)
Moroccan King Mohamed VI in 2016 (YouTube screenshot)

On Friday, however, Morocco’s foreign ministry said that Mohamed VI had scrapped his plans to attend the meeting in light of Netanyahu’s attendance, saying the King “wishes his first visit to a ECOWAS summit not take place in a context of tension and controversy.”

Last July, ECOWAS President Marcel Alain de Souza became the first leader of the organization to visit Israel. He met with Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin to discuss economic cooperation and regional security issues.

In December, Jerusalem hosted seven ministers and many other top officials from over a dozen Western African countries at an agricultural conference in Israel, which was co-sponsored by ECOWAS and Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation. “The conference is held against a backdrop of warming relations between West Africa and Israel, and constitutes fertile ground for the further development of relations both on political and economic levels,” the Foreign Ministry declared at the time.

A group of 11 diplomats from seven African countries visited the area known as Robinson's Arch in the Old City of Jerusalem, November 28, 2016. Second from right is Ze'ev Orenstein of the City of David archeological park, who led the envoys' tour (Michel Rozili/City of David)
A group of 11 diplomats from seven African countries visited the area known as Robinson’s Arch in the Old City of Jerusalem, November 28, 2016. Second from right is Ze’ev Orenstein of the City of David archeological park, who led the envoys’ tour (Michel Rozili/City of David)

Starting in early 2016, Netanyahu has made strengthening ties with Africa one of his main foreign policy goals. Besides seeking new markets for Israeli agriculture, hi-tech and security know-how, the prime minister was also keen to improve African nations’ voting record on Israel-related matters in international forums such as the United Nations Security Council or UNESCO.

“In seizing the future, Israel is coming back to Africa in more than a verbal way,” he said in February.

Netanyahu is also scheduled to attend a Africa-Israel summit in Togo in October, where the prime minister is expected to meet with the leaders of 25 African countries to discuss cooperation in the fields of high-tech, security and development.

AFP contributed to this report.

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