Leader of host country Togo reportedly tells Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas: I’ll run my affairs as I see fit.
The Palestinian Authority and Morocco are working to upend an Africa-Israel summit scheduled for Lomé, Togo, at the end of October, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
According to African diplomatic officials, the PA is putting pressure on Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé to cancel the summit, and is also urging Muslim countries in Africa not to attend, saying that going to the conference will show support for Israel and be a setback for the Palestinian struggle.
Togo will send invitations to all 54 African states to attend the four-day Africa-Israel summit, while between 20 and 30 heads of state are expected to take part. Israel has diplomatic ties with 40 of the 48 sub-Saharan African states.
According to the officials, PA President Mahmoud Abbas asked to meet Gnassingbé at the African Union summit held in Addis Ababa at the beginning of July and urged him to reconsider the Africa-Israel summit. One senior African official said this was the first time Abbas had ever asked to meet the Togolese leader, who has been in office since 2005.
Gnassingbé’s reply, according to sources familiar with the meeting, was that he is running his country in the way he sees fit, that he is friendly with both Israel and the Palestinians, and that if the summit is something that can help strengthen Israel’s economy, then that is something that is ultimately good for the Palestinians as well.
Gnassingbé is scheduled to visit Israel next week for a private three-day visit, during which he will also meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has been here three times in the past year and also met with Netanyahu when the premier attended the Economic Community of West African States conference in Liberia in June.
Like the Palestinians, according to one African diplomatic official, Morocco has been urging African states not to attend the planned parley, but the Moroccans’ reasons are different: They are unhappy with Israel’s inroads into Africa because they view Israel as a competitor on the continent.
“Morocco is trying to come back to Africa as a superpower,” the source said. “They see Israel as competition, and are telling African leaders to be careful about attending the summit, and that it will create problems for them in getting subsidies from Saudi Arabia or Islamic organizations.”
Interestingly, the source said, neither Algeria nor the Saudis has taken any measures to try to keep African leaders from attending the summit. Neither, he pointed out, has South Africa, Israel’s harshest critic in sub-Saharan Africa, and the country that has stood in the way of Jerusalem being granted observer status at the African Union.
According to the official, the South African government is more occupied now with internal turmoil within the African National Congress party than with an Africa-Israel summit in Lomé. Gnassingbé is intent on holding the meeting regardless of any political risk involved, the official said. One of the main reasons is that it will add to his and Togo’s prestige.
“If you hold an Africa-Africa summit, nobody cares, including the international media,” the official said. “Nobody will write or publish anything because you have some kind of African summit almost every day. But if you do something with Israel, you will get some kind of coverage – either positive or negative – because Israel is involved. Since the summit is taking place in Togo, people will talk about the president and his country, and they will see him as an actor on the international stage.”
The source said that the media coverage expected from the summit is almost as important for Togo as the summit itself. The added value, he said, is there is also good chance that some of the more than 130 Israeli companies that will be present at the summit will chose to do business in the country.
The summit, which has been almost two years in the planning, will focus on security, counter-terrorism, economic ties and cooperation in the fields of agriculture, health and education as well as new technology. It is taking place at time when Netanyahu has made strengthening ties with Africa one of his top foreign policy priorities.