/ 28 July 2021

South Africa appalled that Israel given AU observer status

Safrica Israel Palestinian Protest
Palestinian supporters wave flags as they take part in a counter demonstration outside the venue where Israel supporters gather in an event organised by the South Africa Zionist Federation in Johannesburg, on May 23, 2021. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP) (Photo by MARCO LONGARI/AFP via Getty Images)

The South African government has condemned the decision by the African Union Commission (AUC) to grant Israel observer status in the continental body.

Israel attained this status after nearly 20 years of diplomatic efforts on 22 July when its ambassador to Ethiopia, Burundi and Chad, Aleli Admasu, presented his credentials to Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairperson of the AUC, in Addis Ababa.

Israel, which has relations with 46 of the AU member states, enjoyed observer status with the Organisation of African Unity until 2002 when the organisation dissolved itself and became the AU.

In a statement issued by the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) on Wednesday, the South African government said the AUC had “taken this decision unilaterally without consultations with its members”.

“The decision to grant Israel observer status is even more shocking in a year in which the oppressed people of Palestine were hounded by destructive bombardments and continued illegal settlements of the land,” it added.

Dirco spokesperson Clayson Monyela said the decision was incomprehensible, especially at a time when Israeli oppression on Palestinian citizens was “demonstrably more brutal”.

“The AU strenuously objected to the deaths of Palestinians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure. The decision by the AUC in this context is inexplicable. The unjust actions committed by Israel offend the letter and spirit of the charter of the AU,” Monyela said.

“The AU embodies the aspirations of all Africans and reflects their confidence that it can lead the continent through the practical expression of the goals of the charter, especially on issues relating to self-determination and decolonisation. Israel continues to illegally occupy Palestine in complete defiance of its international obligations and relevant UN resolutions.”

In May, tensions between Palestine and Israel flared when an Israeli court decided that soldiers were allowed to evict Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem to make way for Israeli settlements. This led to weeks of violence.

South Africa reiterated its stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict when President Cyril Ramaphosa said Israel’s actions were a violation of international law and that South Africa stood with the Palestinian people “in their quest for self-determination, but also in their resistance against the deprivation of their human rights and the denial of their dignity”.

Pretoria will now ask the AUC’s Faki to provide a briefing to all member states on the decision, to then hopefully be discussed by the executive council and ​​the assembly of heads of states and government.

“SA firmly believes that as long as Israel is not willing to negotiate a peace plan without preconditions, it should not have observer status in the AU. The AU cannot be a party in any way to plans and actions that would see the ideal of Palestinian statehood reduced into balkanised entities devoid of true sovereignty, without territorial contiguity and with no economic viability,” Manyela concluded.