Israel, Senegal begin mending broken relationship

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Senegal's President Macky Sall during the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) conference in Liberia, June 04, 2017. (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The diplomatic world is in a tumultuous season of political breakups and makeups. While a host of African and Middle Eastern nations surprisingly severed diplomatic ties with Qatar this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Africa on Sunday forging diplomatic friendships and healing rifts.

With the goal of strengthening already established connections and changing the anti-Israel voting patterns for which African countries are known, Netanyahu’s trip appears to have borne fruit so far.

One of the most notable accomplishments has been the renewal of the relationship between Israel and Senegal. At odds since December, Netanyahu and Senegalese President Macky Sall declared an end to their fracas, which came hot on the heels of the anti-settlement UN Security Council Resolution 2334. Senegal, along with other countries, cast an anti-Israel vote prompting Israel to recall its ambassador from Senegal and freeze its aid programs to the nation in protest.

Israel announced at Sunday’s meeting that it will return its ambassador to Senegal and reinstate its aid programs there. In return, Senegal will support Israel’s bid to regain observer status at the African Union.

Netanyahu made the long-distance trip to Liberia to convince African leaders that Israel is serious about boosting ties in Africa. Almost a year ago, Netanyahu became the first Israeli prime minister in office to visit Africa in 29 years. At that time, he visited four East African countries.

This week he participated in the summit of the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS). He was allocated 15 minutes to address the ECOWAS leaders in which he outlined his plan to boost connections with the countries represented by sending teams to survey and assess how best to cement international cooperation.

In attendance were numerous Muslim countries, two of which have no diplomatic ties with Israel. Even so, delegates from both Mali and Niger met Netanyahu, who extended similar offers to them as well.

The overarching theme of the prime minister’s speech was that Israeli technology is available for each country to provide solutions to solve Africa’s most pressing problems.

In return, Israel requests that growing bilateral relations should be reflected in international forums, namely Israel gaining observer status in the African Union. Netanyahu said this would benefit not only Israel but would be in the best interest of Africa. Gaining observer status in the African Union has been blocked by South Africa who has chaired the committee until Senegal recently took the title.

Netanyahu also requested that the countries represented reject the various UN bodies that display anti-Israel bias. He was referring to recent UNESCO votes denying Israeli sovereignty over its own capital, Jerusalem.

Netanyahu told ECOWAS delegates that the attitudes of many countries around the world were rapidly changing towards Israel, even in the Arab states. He said that in a joint war against terrorism, Israel is their ally.

Netanyahu was warmly received on his arrival and given preferential treatment. In a break with protocol, the ECOWAS summit which would normally have been held on a Saturday was convened on Sunday so as not to interfere with the Sabbath. As his plane touched down, he was regaled with a Liberian honor guard replete with traditional dancers in cultural attire.

The prime minister was given a seat at the head of the table during the conference and, after receiving a special welcome, he was thanked for his participation. He joined the EU Foreign Policy chief in being the only other non-African to address the delegates.

Netanyahu said that in the near future, Israel would be opening new trade offices across Africa and would be appointing an ambassador to ECOWAS, located in Abuja, Nigeria.

Next on Netanyahu’s African agenda is Togo. In October, the nation is hosting a summit with leaders from 25 African states. Netanyahu wants to be there with the same message – assistance in exchange for diplomatic friendship.