Tel Aviv is on a charm offensive in West Africa, taking advantage of Arab absence to court ECOWAS states.
The Israel-Africa summit scheduled for late October in Lome, Togo’s capital, has been postponed indefinitely due to rising unrest in the country, according to a spokesperson for the Israeli foreign ministry.
Emmanuel Nahshon told Al Jazeera that the decision to postpone the event had nothing to do with the threats of boycott, and rather with the ongoing political instability in Togo.
“The decision was linked to the internal situation in Togo. The situation is seen to be unstable, and they [Togo’s presidency] asked to postpone,” he said.
“It has nothing to do with pressure or threats of boycott. We didn’t want to go and place an added burden on Togo.”
Both the Israeli government and organisers of Israel-Africa summit said on Monday that the summit had been postponed at the request of the President of Togo and after consultations with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.
Both the organisers and Israeli government were unable to provide a possible new date for the summit.
“In the near future, Israel will hold consultations in Africa, both on the bilateral level as well as in regional gatherings and fora on the continent, in order to guarantee the full success of the summit,” a statement from the organisers of the summit read.
Togo has seen a series of anti-government protests in late August and early September.
Thousands of people have taken to the streets to demand that President Faure Gnassingbe step down.
The protests are seen as the biggest challenge to his family’s power since the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, in 2005.
Eyadema ruled Togo for 38 years after seizing the country in a coup in 1967.
In response to the protests, authorities have cracked down on demonstrators, resulting in at least two deaths. Internet and communications were also cut for at least six days.
In a statement on Monday, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said a boycott campaign was instrumental in the cancellation of the summit.
Mazin Shamiyeh, adviser to Riyad al-Maliki, Palestine’s foreign minister, told Al Jazeera that Togo has been under pressure from the Arab and Muslim world and if the summit had gone ahead, it would have given Israel the green light to continue its human rights violations and occupation.
“The cancellation of the summit is also due to the administrative, political, and financial corruption of Togo’s government.
“And there was a rejection from some members of the African Union of Israel’s participation in light of their continued occupation of Palestinians.”
In August, it emerged that several African countries were planning to boycott the summit. According to an estimate by the Afro-Middle East Centre, based in Johannesburg, 48 percent of African nations were likely to attend the summit.
However, Israel’s foreign ministry spokesperson remained adamant that “African countries have good relations with Israel” and denied that the postponement had been engineered by threats of boycott.
In August, Netanyahu said that “various pressures have been placed on the Togolese president to cancel the conference.
“These pressures are the best testimony to the success of our policy, of Israel’s presence in Africa”.
‘Combination ‘ of factors
Zeenat Adam, an independent international relations analyst based in Johannesburg, told Al Jazeera that the cancellation of the event was in all likelihood a “combination of the uprising in Togo against dictatorship rule and concerted efforts by African countries such as Morocco and South Africa to lobby against the summit”.
“Benjamin Netanyahu has been on the most robust campaign since Golda Meir’s [Israel’s FM between 1956-1966] Africa policy in the 1950s.
“The Togo Summit was meant to be the crowning moment since his rapprochement with African states, noting that he has been fairly successful in getting some of the staunchest opponents in Africa to soften their stance on Israel,” Adam said.
Protesters in Togo are demanding wide-reaching political reforms. Among their demands is the revision of the constitution that now allows Faure to run for an unlimited number of terms.
Adama Gaye, a political analyst, said that many in Togo are “fed up with the fact that it’s the same family which has been ruling the country” for five decades.
“Faure Gnassingbe is now facing the battle of his life because the population of Togo is young,” Gaye told Al Jazeera from Dundee, Scotland.
Since 2009, Israel has been making new inroads on to the African continent.
Over the past two years, Netanyahu has made Africa a key feature of his foreign policy with an eye on securing support at the UN from African states.