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African Union suspends debate on Israel’s observer member status

Palestinian Authority had urged union to withdraw Jewish state’s accreditation; diplomats say committee will be established to ‘study the issue’

Delegates attend the opening session of the 33rd African Union Summit at its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on February 9, 2020. (AP)
Delegates attend the opening session of the 33rd African Union Summit at its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on February 9, 2020. (AP)

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — The African Union suspended a debate Sunday on whether to withdraw Israel’s accreditation, avoiding a vote that risked creating an unprecedented rift in the 55-member bloc.

“The Israel question has been suspended for now and instead there will be a committee set up to study the issue,” a diplomat told AFP on the closing day of the AU’s annual summit in Addis Ababa.

The committee will present its findings at next year’s AU summit.

“Israel’s acceptance as an observer in the African Union is a clear interest for us all – for Israel, for the African Union, and for the Union’s members,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry in a statement. “It will facilitate increased cooperation between Israel and African countries. Israel attaches great importance to expanding the dialogue and cooperation with the African Union in line with changes in the Middle East, and views it as an important expression of our shared activities for the continent’s next generation.”

The relationship with Israel is a rare point of contention for a body that values consensus, with powerful member states, notably South Africa, loudly protesting a decision last July by Moussa Faki Mahamat, chair of the African Union Commission, to accept Israel’s accreditation to the bloc.

The six-member committee will include South Africa and Algeria, who opposed Faki’s move to accredit Israel, as well as Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who supported it, according to the diplomats.

Cameroon also asked to be on the committee, while South Africa requested the inclusion of Nigeria as well, the diplomats said.

African Union Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat at the EU Africa Forum in Vienna, Austria, December 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

As the summit opened Saturday, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh urged African leaders to withdraw Israel’s AU accreditation, denouncing its “apartheid regime.”

Member nations such as South Africa said they had not been properly consulted about the decision, which they said contradicted numerous AU statements -– including from Faki himself – supporting the Palestinian Territories.

The accreditation handed Israeli diplomats a victory they had been chasing for nearly two decades.

Israel was previously accredited at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), but lost that status when the body was disbanded and replaced by the AU in 2002.

Seventy-two countries, regional blocs and organizations are already accredited, including North Korea, the European Union and UNAIDS, according to the AU’s website.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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