Togo's President Faure Gnassingbé, who has been facing mass demonstrations against his regime recently, has informed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he has canceled the Africa-Israel Summit slated for next month.
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The gathering was due to take place from October 23-27 in the capital of Lomé.
Gnassingbé’s decision comes in the midst of a political crisis in Togo. However, South Africa and some Arab countries had also applied pressure to call off the summit, to which dozens of countries had been invited.
The event – whose slogan was to be “Building bridges toward greater shared prosperity,” according to its website – was to be the jewel in the crown of efforts to strengthen Israel’s diplomatic, trade and security relations with Africa.
“In response to the request by the president of Togo and following consultations between him and the prime minister, it was decided to put off the Israel-Africa Summit to a future, agreed-upon date,” said Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon in a statement Monday.
“The president stressed that the success of this important event requires significant and complicated preparations,” he added.
Gnassingbé’s announcement was also partly due to pressure from the Palestinians. It has dealt a major blow to Netanyahu's public position that Israel’s current foreign relations are being affected less by the Palestinian conflict than in the past.
Netanyahu celebrated “a big breakthrough” at a Foreign Ministry event last week. He also spoke of Israel's “return to Africa.” He noted that Israel is expanding the scope of its technological assistance to African countries, which is being extremely well received by those nations.
Israel’s assumption, he added at the event, has been that “if we come to an agreement with the Palestinians, which we have wanted and still want, it will open up the world to us. There is no doubt that this will help, but the world is also opening up without it and that’s a huge change. The whole world is changing.”
Israeli efforts to improve its African ties have included two visits to various countries there by Netanyahu within the space of a year: Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia in July 2016, and to a West African summit in June.
One of Netanyahu’s declared objectives has been to effect change in African countries’ voting patterns in the United Nations – which have traditionally been in support of the Palestinians and against Israel.
While admitting that positive changes in attitudes toward Israel have not yet been evident in international forums like the UN, Netanyahu said last week that important developments involving other countries are taking place – despite the fact that the Palestinians “have not changed their preconditions for a diplomatic arrangement, which are totally unacceptable among a huge part of the [Israeli] public.
“It’s happening,” he said. “It’s happening because we are developing, as a policy, our economic-technological power, which allows us to develop our strength in the realm of security and intelligence. And that combination empowers us politically.”
The Palestinians, as well as representatives of South Africa and Arab countries, have spoken out against Israel’s diplomatic efforts to widen its international support. To this end, they had voiced opposition to the Togo summit. South Africa had even threatened to boycott the event.
"Israel is obligated to continuing its efforts regarding Africa, as it has in recent years," Foreign Ministry spokesman Nahshon said on Monday. "These have included the prime minister's visit in the summer of 2016 to Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, and the political conference of the ECOWAS organization in Liberia in June 2017, to which the premier was invited as an honorary guest.
"Israel believes the African countries and Israel will profit from the continued promotion of practical cooperation between them in areas such as water, agriculture, health and technology," added Nahshon.
The Gnassingbé family has ruled in Togo for some 50 years. The current president succeeded his father, who served until 2005. Demonstrations calling for his resignation have been taking place in the capital in recent days, and have sparked violent clashes with security forces.
The Togo government decided at one point to cut off all internet access for several days, in a bid to thwart the opposition’s efforts to garner more local and international support.