February 9, 2022
THE African Union (AU) has suspended debate on Israel’s Observer Status at the pan-African body that was granted in July 2021.
The AU has now established a six-member committee, which includes South Africa, to examine this issue and report back in a year’s time.
Israel had Observer Status during the existence of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), but this was cancelled when it was replaced by the AU in 2002.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Chairperson of the AU, speaking during the organisation’s summit that ended on February 6, expressed disappointment in the continent’s leaders who have thrown the whole issue into confusion.
They claimed that Faki, who took the decision to reinstate Israel’s position within the AU, had violated its Constitutive Act by doing so.
But he argued that under the AU’s Sirte Criteria of 2005, the powers of the Chairperson to grant Observer Status to a non-African state were established.
He told the gathered leaders: “I am constantly keen to promote the interests of the Union and to reinforce the positions taken by member states in international fora.
“It is out of this concern and in this sole concern, that at the request of several member states and after an in-depth consideration, I decided on 22 July 2021 to grant the State of Israel the Observer Status.
“By granting the Observer Status to the State of Israel, I, therefore, acted in full compliance with my prerogatives and powers while respecting the procedure because at the first known reservation I expressed my will to revert to the next session of the Executive Council, which I did exactly,” Faki said.
He pointed out that 44 AU members, including South Africa, had recognised Israel and established diplomatic relations with the country, adding that 17 of these countries had embassies in Tel Aviv while 12 had opened General Consulates there.
He asked: “How in the face of this overwhelming number, could I imagine that I was violating the Constitutive Act and the relevant decisions of the organisation by acting in favour of the national interests and choices of 44 member states?”
Faki went on: “The number of member states which expressly asked for the granting of Observer Status to the State of Israel appeared to me larger than that of the member states that did not recognise Israel.
“Which number should I comply with? The majority or the minority? I leave it to your appreciation,” he added.
Pointing out that Palestine currently have Observer Status at the AU, Faki condemned the double standards of those criticising him.
“I have known for a long time how in Africa, in the Arab and the Muslim world, the just cause of the Palestinian people has been used, but this is another debate on which I do not want to dwell any longer.”
South Africa, which has exchanged ambassadors with Israel, and Algeria, which does not have any relations with Israel, spearheaded the campaign to put the issue of Israel’s Observer Status on the agenda of the summit.
Both countries argued that the decision flew in the face of AU statements supporting Palestinian territories.
But Faki argued that the countries with diplomatic relations with Israel, including South Africa, could “have all violated the Constitutive Act, divided Africa and betrayed the relevant decisions of the AU with regard to the unwavering support to the Palestinian people for the recovery of their fundamental rights, by recognising Israel and establishing diplomatic relations with it, often concretised by the mutual accreditation of ambassadors or General Consuls”.
The Chairman of South Africa’s Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation, Supra Mahumapelo, welcomed the move to suspend discussion of the matter.
“We have noted with relief that the summit has agreed to suspend a debate on the AU chairman’s controversial decision to grant observer status to Israel, delaying a potentially divisive vote,” he said.
He said that the country’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr. Naledi Pandor, would later respond to Faki’s statement on South Africa’s role in raising the Israel question.