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Israel slams delegation’s removal from African Union Summit 2023

An Israeli observer delegation was ejected from the body’s annual summit in Ethiopia, a move the Israeli Foreign Ministry blamed on Iranian influence.

African Union Summit 2023 in Ethiopia, the body's 36th annual session. Source: Screenshot.
African Union Summit 2023 in Ethiopia, the body's 36th annual session. Source: Screenshot.

An Israeli delegation was ejected on Saturday from the African Union’s annual summit in Ethiopia, a move the Israeli Foreign Ministry blamed “extremist” countries influenced by Iran.

“Israel looks harshly upon the incident in which the [Foreign Ministry] Deputy Director for Africa, Ambassador Sharon Bar-Li, was removed from the African Union hall despite her status as an accredited observer with entrance badges,” the ministry said in a statement.

“It is sad to see that the African Union has been taken hostage by a small number of extremist countries such as Algeria and South Africa, driven by hatred and controlled by Iran. We call on the African countries to stand against these actions that harm the organization of the African Union itself and the entire continent,” added the statement.

The Foreign Ministry said that the charge d’affaires at South Africa’s embassy in Israel would be summoned for a reprimand.

“The attempt to cancel Israel’s observer status has no basis in the organization’s laws,” said the ministry.

Ebba Kalondo, the spokesperson for the African Union’s commission chairman, said Bar-Li had been removed because she was not the accredited Israeli ambassador to Ethiopia, the official who was expected, according to Reuters.

Israel was formally granted observer status in July 2021, and many non-African countries and groups hold the designation, “Palestine” being one of them. Israel had been trying to win back the status for 20 years, since it lost it when the Organization of African Unity was disbanded in 2002 to make way for its replacement organization, the African Union.

At its meeting last year, the 55-member A.U. pushed off a vote over Israel’s observer status and instead set up a committee to examine the matter, whose report was due to be presented at the current summit.

“Until the A.U. takes a decision on whether to grant Israel observer status, you cannot have the country sitting and observing,” Clayson Monyela, head of public diplomacy in South Africa’s department of international relations, told Reuters.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh addressed last year’s summit, saying that “Israel should never be rewarded for its violation and for the apartheid regime it does impose on the Palestinian people.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made enhancing Jerusalem’s relations with Africa a main foreign policy goal. In early February, the prime minister dedicated the Embassy of the Republic of Chad in Israel together with visiting president of Chad, Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno.

The same day, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen traveled to Khartoum, where he met with General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, leader of Sudan’s transitional government.

Upon Cohen’s return to Israel, he announced that the two countries would sign a peace agreement this year in Washington.

“Today’s visit to Sudan lays the foundation for a historic peace agreement with a strategic Arab and Muslim country,” said Cohen. “The peace agreement between Israel and Sudan will promote regional stability and contribute to the national security of the State of Israel.”

Khartoum first agreed to normalize relations with Israel in October 2020 under the Trump administration, in exchange for Washington removing Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. In January 2021, it became the fourth country to sign onto the Abraham Accords.

The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco have also joined the accords, although the current development with Sudan is being billed as a peace agreement in the vein of those forged between Israel and Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994).

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