Israel’s Outreach to Africa Faces Setback as First-Ever Summit Postponed

By Patrick Goodenough | September 12, 2017 | 4:14 AM EDT

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe meet in Jerusalem on August 10, 2016. (Photo: GPO/Haim Zach)

( – Israel’s drive to build international partnerships in the face of isolation and boycott campaigns has suffered a setback, with the abrupt postponement of an unprecedented summit with African governments next month.

The Africa-Israel Summit was to have been hosted by the small West African nation of Togo from October 23-27. Up to 25 of Africa’s 54 nations were expected to take part in the event, focused on enhancing cooperation in the fields of technology, agriculture, development and security.

But on Monday the Israeli foreign ministry announced that Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe had requested a postponement until “a mutually agreed upon date.”

It said Gnassingbe had “emphasized that elaborate preparations are needed in order to guarantee the success of the event.”

The Togolese leader had also thanked Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu “for his determination to strengthen the cooperation between his country and Israel as well as for his personal engagement to guarantee the initiative to hold the summit,” the ministry added.

It’s not clear what lay behind the postponement request, although Togo’s capital, Lome, has been the scene of major street protests against the three-term president, some of which have turned violent.

Nonetheless, the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) was quick to claim credit for the move, saying P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas had given instructions for a diplomatic campaign aimed at thwarting the initiative.

“It is clear that the postponement decision was a result of pressure exerted in various ways and means,” the P.A. foreign ministry said in a statement later Monday.

It described the planned summit as an attempt by Israel to “strengthen its power on the African continent by opening the doors of Africa to Israel.”

The ministry said the battle was not yet over, and would continue until the summit was canceled entirely.

Opposition to the summit had come from the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Strikingly, Togo agreed to host the summit despite having been a member since 1997 of the OIC, a bloc of Muslim-majority nations that is unabashedly hostile towards Israel.

A group of African countries had also indicated they intended to boycott the summit.

Most were Islamic states in North Africa, but they were joined by South Africa, whose ruling African National Congress has become increasingly antagonistic towards Israel in recent years

In July an ANC national policy conference adopted a recommendation to downgrade South Africa’s embassy in Tel Aviv to a liaison office, and last month ANC members of parliament refused to meet with a group of visiting Israeli lawmakers.

During a weekly cabinet meeting last month, Netanyahu spoke about attempts to derail the October summit.

“Various pressures have been placed on the Togolese president to cancel the conference,” he said. “These pressures are the best testimony to the success of our policy, of Israel’s presence in Africa.”

The summit postponement comes at a time when Israel is seeking support for its bid – its first ever – for a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

In a world body long antagonistic towards Israel, it faces an uphill battle as it looks for backing – including in Africa – for a seat for the 2019-2020 period.

The General Assembly will vote in the fall of next year to fill five temporary Security Council seats for the two-year period beginning the following January.  At the weekend the Arab League announced the establishment of a committee dedicated to ensuring that Israel’s bid is defeated.

Many African countries severed ties with Israel following the 1967 Six Day and 1973 Yom Kippur wars, and today Israel has just ten embassies in Africa (in the capitals of Angola, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa.)

But Netanyahu has made steady inroads in a continent that has long been supportive of the Palestinian cause, and next month’s now-postponed summit would have crowned a series of recent advances.

Last year Netanyahu hosted the presidents of Kenya, Liberia and Ghana, and visited Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda, In June of this year, the Israeli leader was a guest of honor at a summit of the 15-nation West African bloc ECOWAS.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow