All 54 African nations will be invited; more than 20 are expected to attend

Israel dismisses efforts to derail upcoming Africa summit

Palestinians, Moroccans and South Africans dismayed over Togo gathering, at which PM will seek to boost diplomatic and economic ties

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

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)

Israel this week played down pro-Palestinian efforts to obstruct an upcoming Africa-Israel summit in Togo, with officials expressing confidence that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with many African leaders keen on promoting political and economical ties with the Jewish state there.

Togo is set to invite all 54 countries on the continent to the event, which is scheduled for October 23-27 in the capital Lome. But the Palestinians, Morocco and South Africa are actively seeking to derail the gathering, African and Israeli sources told The Times of Israel.

“This is not taking place without contrary pressure,” Netanyahu said during Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, referring to the Africa-Israel Summit. “Various pressures have been placed on the Togolese president to cancel the conference. These pressures are the best testimony to the success of our policy, of Israel’s presence in Africa.”

Netanyahu is expected to be the only non-African leader to take a central role in the conference. The schedule for the gathering has not been finalized, but the prime minister is likely to address the entire gathering and hold one-on-one meetings with leaders.

Netanyahu is due on Monday evening to host Togo’s President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbe in his Jerusalem office to talk about the summit.

Between 20 and 25 African heads of state and government, plus dozens of ministers with various portfolios, are expected at the four-day conference, according to Bruno Finel, the event’s organizer.

“Preparations are going very well. You will have approximately 150 Israeli companies attending the summit, about a dozen from West Africa and also many from Central and East Africa,” he said on Sunday.

There is a “strong possibility” that even senior officials from countries with which Israel has no diplomatic ties will attend, Finel added. “On one side, it’s about politics and diplomacy, and on the other side it’s business. We want to promote to a real partnership between Africa and Israel.”

Before the politicians and businessmen gather, some 100 African students will meet with 30 Israeli students for the first-ever African-Israeli youth summit, he said.

Under the motto “Israel is coming back to Africa and Africa is coming back to Israel,” Netanyahu has declared diplomatic outreach to Africa as one of his key foreign policy objectives. Offering African states development aid, economic cooperation, and anti-terrorism know-how, Netanyahu aims to use support from the continent to break the traditional anti-Israel majority in international organizations such as the UN.

Last week, Cape Verde announced it will no longer vote against Israel at the UN. On Tuesday, Senegal and Guinea — two Muslim-majority countries in West Africa — will send their first-ever non-resident ambassadors to Israel.

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)

Naturally, Ramallah is dismayed about the prospects of Israel strengthening ties with countries that have traditionally been staunch supporters of the Palestinian cause.

Morocco is leading the opposition to the planned African-Israeli conference. Rabat, like Jerusalem, has identified Africa’s economic potential and is now worried about competition from Israel, according to two sources.

“Morocco wants to become a superpower, and they understand that Africa is a major market for them,” an African source said, asking to remain unnamed due to the sensitive nature of the issue. “Morocco’s opposition to the summit has nothing to do with support for the Palestinians — zero. They just sees Israel as competitors, just like China, India or Japan.”

Morocco's King Mohammed VI (State Department/Flickr/Wikipedia Commons)
Morocco’s King Mohammed VI (State Department/Flickr/Wikipedia Commons)

In June, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI opted not to participate in a meeting between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that was attended by Netanyahu, even though Rabat seeks to become a member of the organization. The monarch “disagree[d] with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu being invited,” the Moroccan Foreign Ministry said at the time, adding that he “wishes his first visit to a ECOWAS summit not take place in a context of tension and controversy.”

South Africa, too, appears eager to derail the summit. The country’s ruling party, the African National Congress, last month issued a “discussion document” calling for efforts to sabotage Israel’s rapprochement with African states in general and the planned meeting in Lome in particular.

“[W]e have remained consistent with our solidarity with the people of Palestine in their cause to realise the Palestinian Statehood. We cannot turn a blind on Israeli efforts to galvanise support from Africa and elsewhere with a view to undermine the Palestinian cause,” the document states.

Noting that Netanyahu has visited several African countries in recent months “to garner support for its foreign policy towards Palestine,” the party should “engage progressive forces on the continent on the need to develop a common position and posture in preparation for the upcoming Israeli-Africa Summit scheduled for October 2017 in Togo.”

But Israel this week showed so signs of panic.

“The efforts by the Palestinians, the Moroccans, and the South Africans to sabotage the planned summit in Togo are doomed to fail,” a senior diplomatic official in Jerusalem said on Monday. “We expect the prime minister to meet many African leaders there and to significantly advance his goal of fostering a stronger Africa-Israel alliance.”

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