[News] Palestinians need a centralised strategy to counter Israel in Africa, not slogans

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jan 15 18:51:56 EST 2021

need a centralised strategy to counter Israel in Africa, not slogans
Dr Ramzy Baroud - January 15, 2021

Arab normalisation with Israel is expected to have serious consequences
that go well beyond the limited and self-serving agendas of a few regional
countries. Thanks to the Arab normalisers, the doors are now flung wide
open for new political actors to extend or cement ties with Israel at the
expense of Palestine, without fear of any repercussions.

Many African countries have worked diligently to integrate Israel into the
continent's mainstream body politic. They are now seizing the opportunity
to bring all states across the continent on board, including those who have
historically and genuinely stood on the side of the Palestinians.

Empower Africa is an Israeli firm
that is constantly seeking financial opportunities throughout Africa. It
was but one of many which jumped at the opportunity to exploit Arab
normalisation with Israel. The goal is to maximise profits while promoting
Arab normalisation as an economic opportunity for struggling African
economies. In December, Empower Africa hosted
its first event in Dubai under the heading "UAE and Israel Uniting with
Africa". In its press release, the Israeli company said that its guests
included representatives from the UAE, Israel, Bahrain, Nigeria, Rwanda and
Egypt, among others.

Such events are meant to translate normalisation with Israel into economic
opportunities that will entangle not only Arab countries, but also those in
Africa and Asia, as well as other traditional supporters of Palestine
worldwide. The central message that the advocates of normalisation are now
sending to the rest of the world is that closer ties with Tel Aviv will
guarantee direct American support and innumerable economic benefits.

Those who promote solidarity with Palestine worldwide, based on moral
maxims and international law, are correct to argue that solidarity and
intersectionality are crucial in the fight against injustice everywhere.
However, realpolitik is rarely shaped by morality and legitimacy. This is
the truth that Palestinians now have to contend with, as they watch their
Arab and Muslim brothers moving, one after the other, towards the Israeli

Unfortunately, it was the Palestinian leadership itself that strengthened
the normalisation argument many years ago, especially in the early 1990s,
when it first agreed
to negotiate unconditionally with Israel, under the auspices of the US
rather than exclusively through the UN. The Palestinian/Arab engagement
with Israel in the Madrid Talks in 1991 provided the impetus for Washington
to push for the reversal of a 1975 UN Resolution
that equated Zionism with racism.

Ironically, it was the African Union that first championed UN Resolution
3379, soon after it passed its own Resolution 77 (XII)
earlier that year in the Kampala Assembly of Heads of State and
Governments. The assembly condemned Zionism as a racist, colonial ideology.

Those days are long gone and, sadly, it was the Middle East and Africa that
altered their views of Israel, without compelling the latter to abandon its
racist political doctrine in return. The result is that racism and
apartheid in Israel are now even more entrenched within the country's
official institutions than ever before. Moreover, Israel's military
occupation and siege of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are accelerating in
tandem with Arab and African normalisation with the settler-colonial state.

The now dead in the water 1993 Oslo Accords served as a major pretence for
many countries around the world, especially in the global South, to draw
nearer to Israel. "If the Palestinians themselves have normalised with
Israel, why shouldn't we?" was the knee-jerk retort from politicians in
various countries when approached by the advocates of the Palestinian
boycott movement. This immoral and politically selective logic has been
reinforced since the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco joined the Arab
normalisation camp in recent months.

[image: A growing number of countries in the MENA region are normalising
ties with Israel - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]]

A growing number of countries in the MENA region are normalising ties with
Israel – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

While arguments that are predicated on moral values and shared history are
still very much valid, making a case against normalisation cannot rest
entirely on ethical reasoning or sentimentalities. True, the shared
anti-colonial past of Africa and the Arab world, especially that of
Palestine, is uncontested. Even so, some African countries did not side
with the Arabs in their conflict with colonial Israel based on entirely
moral and ideological arguments. Indeed, the Israel-Africa story has also
been shaped by overtly economic and business interests.

Africa's significance for Israel has acquired various meanings throughout
the years. When it was established
upon the ruins of historic Palestine, diplomatic ties between the nascent
colonial state and African countries soon became essential for Tel Aviv to
break away from its geopolitical isolation in the region. That, in addition
to the strategic importance of the Bab Al-Mandab Strait — separating Africa
from the Arabian Peninsula and offering Israel breathing space through the
Red Sea — gave the continent additional geostrategic significance.

In fact, on the eve of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, 33 African countries had
full diplomatic ties with Israel. Immediately afterwards, and in the run-up
to the 1973 October War, they abandoned
Israel in large numbers, signalling the rise of an unprecedented
Arab-African unity, which continued unhindered until the 1990s. It was then
that Israel began, once more, to promote itself as a unique ally across

In recent years, Israel has accelerated its plans to exploit Africa's many
political and economic opportunities, especially as the continent is now an
open house for renewed global attention. The US, the EU, China, Russia and
others are jockeying to win a piece of Africa's massive wealth of material
and human resources. Israel, too, as a regional power, is part of this
renewed "scramble for Africa".

In 2016, Israel's right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said
that, "Israel is coming back to Africa, and Africa is returning to Israel."
This should not be dismissed as political hyperbole by the Israeli leader.
It can be argued that Israel's burgeoning political and economic ties with
Africa are Netanyahu's greatest achievements in recent years. Diplomatic
with Muslim-majority African countries such as Mali and Chad, have been the
back door through which Israel has approached Arab-Muslim countries in
Africa, such as Sudan and Morocco.

There is more to Israel's keen interest in Africa than mere business, of
course. With America's superpower status in the Middle East being
challenged by other global actors, namely Russia and China, Israel is
trying to diversify its options so that it is not reliant exclusively on a
single benefactor.

Now that Arab and Muslim countries are normalising with Israel openly and
discreetly, some African governments feel liberated from their previous
commitment to Palestine; they are no longer forced to choose between their
Arab allies and the occupation state.

*READ: Palestine slams sale of Israel settlement products in UAE

Solidarity with Palestine, on all traditional platforms, certainly stands
to lose as a result of these seismic changes. Even the UN General Assembly
is no longer a safe space for Palestinian solidarity. When the UN General
Assembly Resolution headed "Peaceful settlement of the question of
Palestine" was adopted
on 3 December 2019, for example, 13 countries abstained from the vote,
including Cameroon, Rwanda, South Sudan and Malawi. This was unprecedented.
The trend worsened a year later, on 2 December 2020, when more African
countries abstained <https://www.un.org/en/ga/75/resolutions.shtml> from
voting on a similar resolution, with Cameroon, Madagascar, Malawi, Rwanda
and even South Africa refusing to acknowledge what should have been a
straightforward recognition of Palestinian rights.

Based on this disturbing trajectory, more African countries are expected
either to adopt a "neutral" position on Palestine and Israel or, depending
on the nature of their interests or degree of US-Israeli pressure, take
Israel's side in future votes.

The Palestinian dichotomy rests on the fact that African solidarity with
Palestine has historically been placed within the larger political
framework of mutual African-Arab solidarity. Yet, with official Arab
solidarity with Palestine now weakening, Palestinians are forced to think
outside this traditional framework, so that they may build direct
solidarity with African nations as Palestinians, without necessarily
merging their national aspirations with the larger Arab body politic.

While such a task is daunting, it is also promising, as Palestinians now
have the opportunity to build bridges of support and mutual solidarity in
Africa through direct contacts, where they serve as their own ambassadors.
Obviously, Palestine has much to gain, but also much to offer Africa.
Palestinian doctors, engineers, civil defence and frontline workers,
educationists, intellectuals and artists are some of the most highly
qualified and accomplished in the Middle East; in fact, in the world.

Palestine must develop a centralised strategy to counter Israel in Africa,
not just slogans. It must utilise its people's tremendous energies and
expertise to win Africa back to the anti-colonial cause, not as a
bargaining chip, but as an authentic attempt to reinvigorate existing
solidarity between the Palestinians and the peoples of Africa.

Israel is trying to lure Africa's elites through business deals which,
judging by previous experiences, could become a burden on African
economies. Palestine, on the other hand, can offer Africa genuine
friendship and support across many areas of meaningful cooperation which,
in the long run, can turn existing historical and cultural affinities into
deeper, more practical solidarity and development.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not
necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.
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