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Israel to join African Union as observer after being kept out for 2 decades

Jerusalem makes major stride in its burgeoning ties with the continent; ‘this is a day of celebration for Israel-Africa relations,’ says Foreign Minister Lapid

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

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

Israel will be joining the African Union as an observer state, the Foreign Ministry announced Thursday.

Israel’s ambassador to Addis Ababa, Aleleign Admasu, submitted Israel’s charter as an observer member to the 55-member continental organization.

Israel enjoyed observer status in the predecessor Organization of African Unity until 2002, when the organization dissolved itself and became the African Union.

“This is a day of celebration for Israel-Africa relations,” said Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. “This diplomatic achievement is the result of efforts by the Foreign Ministry, the African Division, and Israeli embassies on the continent.”

“This corrects the anomaly that existed for almost two decades,” Lapid continued, “and is an important part of strengthening of fabric of Israel’s foreign relations. This will help us strengthen our activities in the continent and in the organization’s member states.”

Israel has relations with 46 of the AU member states. Israel reestablished relations with Guinea in 2016 and with Chad in 2019.

Israel’s envoy to Ethiopia Aleleign Admasu (R) submits Israel’s charter as an observer member to the African Union in Addis Ababa, July 22, 2021 (African Union Commission)

In October 2020, Israel also signed a normalization agreement with Sudan.

The Foreign Ministry said the development would allow for better cooperation on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and on combating terrorism.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu prioritized Israel’s relations with Africa during the latter half of his 12 years in office, including with several Muslim-majority countries on the continent.

Besides seeking new markets for Israeli agriculture, high-tech and security know-how, the former prime minister was eager to improve African nations’ voting record on Israel-related matters in international forums such as the United Nations Security Council and UNESCO.

In July 2016, Netanyahu became the first Israeli premier in decades to travel to the continent when he visited four East African nations: Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara meet with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Kenyatta’s wife at the president’s house in Nairobi, Kenya, on July 5, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

In December of that year, 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

In June 2017, Netanyahu attended the annual conference by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), an organization that includes 15 nations with a combined population of some 320 million. The prime minister was invited to the 51st Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Community in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city.

“Israel is returning to Africa in a big way,” the then-prime minister said before the trip.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report. 

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