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ADDIS ABABA: The AU appears set for an internal clash over its relationship with Israel at a summit this weekend, a rare point of contention for a bloc that values ​​consensus.

The dispute was sparked last July when Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the AU Commission, accepted Israel’s accreditation to the 55-member body headquartered in Addis Ababa, offering diplomats Israelis a victory they had been pursuing for almost two decades.

Powerful AU member states, notably South Africa, were quick to protest, saying they had not been properly consulted and that the move contradicted many statements by the AU – including Faki himself. even – supporting the Palestinian Territories.

Foreign ministers failed to resolve the issue at a meeting last October, and South Africa and Algeria put it on the agenda of a leaders’ summit. State which will begin on Saturday, according to AU documents seen by AFP.

Despite a long list of pressing issues, including the coronavirus pandemic and a series of recent coups, analysts expect the issue of Israel to be heard at length at the summit, which marks the 20th anniversary of the foundation of the AU.

There could also be a vote on whether to support or reject Faki’s decision. “Twenty years after the formation of the African Union, the first issue has emerged that will seriously divide” the bloc, said Na’eem Jeenah, executive director of the Afro-Middle East Center in Johannesburg.

“No matter how the decision is made at the heads of state summit in February, the AU will be divided in a way that it has never been in the past.”

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

RETURNEARTH

Foreign ministers failed to resolve the issue at a meeting last October, and South Africa and Algeria put it on the agenda of a leaders’ summit. state which will begin on Saturday, according to AU documents.

Israel was previously accredited to the Organization of African Unity, but lost that status when the body was disbanded and replaced by the AU in 2002.

The Israeli government blamed the snub on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who wielded major influence over the AU until his death in 2011.

When Faki announced Israel’s accreditation last July, Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement describing its previous exclusion as an “anomaly” and noted that Israel had ties to 46 African countries.

The ministry also said Israel’s new status would help it assist the AU in the fight against the pandemic and terrorism.

“Working bilaterally with many African countries is wonderful and great, and it is the fundamental principle of the relationship with Africa,” said Iddo Moed, deputy director for African affairs at the ministry, last week.

“But I think for Israel it is also important to establish formal relations with Africa as a continent,” he added.

But Jeenah of the Afro-Middle East Center said the environment that gave birth to the AU made it different from the OAU, which was founded nearly 40 years earlier.

“We were resolutely in a postcolonial period. Apartheid in South Africa was over. It was time for a new organization that oriented itself differently,” he said.

Just because Israel was accredited before, he added, doesn’t mean it should be now.

South Africa was among the first African countries to denounce Israel’s new accreditation.

He stood by the criticism, with Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor denouncing Faki’s decision in December as “inexplicable”.

“It came as a shock, given that the decision came at a time when the oppressed people of Palestine were being dogged by destructive bombardments and continued to illegally colonize their lands,” she said.

Just two months before accepting accreditation from Israel, Faki himself condemned Israeli “bombings” in the Gaza Strip as well as “violent attacks” by Israeli security forces on the Al Mosque compound. -Aqsa in Jerusalem, saying the Israeli army was acting “in flagrant violation”. of international law”.

Analysts and diplomats say it is unclear how a vote on Israel’s status might play out.

Israel’s biggest supporters are Rwanda and Morocco, while many countries have not expressed a position. Any decision on Israel would require the support of two-thirds of member states.

Supra Mahumapelo, chairman of a South African parliamentary committee on international relations, said it was important for the AU to take up the issue.

Some observers, however, lamented the tensions the debate seems destined to stoke.

“Every effort should have been made to prevent this issue from becoming a source of polarization. Now it will be such a bad distraction at a time when you don’t need it anymore,” said Solomon Dersso, founder of the AU think tank Amani Africa.

Nohemi M. Moore