NEW YORK (Apr. 14)
Senegal’s record of unremitting hostility toward Israel is comparable to that of the most extreme Arab states. Indeed, while Israel maintains contacts in varying degree with the majority of African countries (including those which are openly hostile), under the present regime of Senegalese President Abdou Diouf, Israeli initiatives have been rejected even at the most informal and unofficial level.
Diouf and other Senegalese officials have declared, time and again, that Senegal has absolutely no intention of resuming diplomatic relations with Israel, now or in the future.
Senegal has been in the forefront of efforts to alienate Israel from Black Africa. In early 1982, Saudi Arabian leaders were reportedly assured by Diouf that his country would vigorously oppose renewed Israeli attempts to gain diplomatic acceptance by African states that broke off relations after the 1973 war.
Several months later, Diouf pledged to Arab League Secretary General Chedi Klibi that Senegal would work to block any renewal of diplomatic relations between Africa and Israel and that his country would seek to persuade African states to link the issue of South Africa with that of Israel.
In the past several months there have been reports of discussions between Senegal and the Arab League to establish a joint program to combat Israeli “infiltration” of Black Africa. And, in March of this year, Senegal initiated the formation of an African-Arab interparliamentary committee that will be devoted to addressing the Israeli “threat” in Africa.
PRESSURES STATES FRIENDLY TO ISRAEL
Senegal has even attempted to create strains between Israel and those African countries that have chosen to reestablish ties. Early this year, for example, in a move characteristic of hostile Arab states, Diouf pressured the Zairian government not to invite the Israeli Ambassador in Kinshasa to the official welcoming ceremonies for President Diouf’s visit to Zaire.
Senegal has been active within the Islamic world as well. As a member of both the Islamic Congress organization and the Moslem Solidarity Conference, Senegal has participated in the adoption of virulent anti-Israel resolutions, including those that call for “Jihad,” or Holy War, against the Jewish State.
Senegal’s relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization have also deepened over the last three years. In June, 1982, in an exchange of letters with PLO terrorist leader Yasir Arafat, Diouf pledged continued support for the “restoration of Palestinian rights.” Senegal also proposed a separate United Nations seat for “Palestine” occupied by the PLO. Since that time, Senegal-PLO solidarity has been emphasized during two meetings with Arafat in Dakar and in Tunis.
It should be noted, in this regard, that in 1967 Senegal was the first Black African state to grant official recognition to the PLO. Senegal’s founder and first President, Leopold Senghor, once described as a “champion of the PLO,” encourage the terrorist organization at that time to open an office in Dakar.
LEADING ANTI-ISRAEL IN THE UN
Even at the UN, where anti-Israel animus is rife, Senegal stands out. At every opportunity, Senegalese representatives fiercely condemn Israeli policies and actions. In Senegal’s position as chairman of the UN Committee of the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, it has played a prominent role — indeed, a leading role — in efforts to vilify, castigate and discredit Israel.
Hostility, however, has not always marked Senegal-Israel relations. During the 1960′s, in fact, ties between the two countries were cordial. Cooperative agreements were signed on a wide range of issues, including agricultural development, air transport, youth training programs and the modernizing of industrial infrastructure. Israeli agronomists shared their renowned expertise in the cultivation of arid lands with Senegalese farmers.
Israeli doctors were dispatched to the African country during the yellow fever epidemic of 1966 and Israeli medical teams went into the Senegalese countryside to set up first aid programs for villagers living in remote areas.
In the political realm also, Senegal sought an active role in Arab-Israeli mediation. In 1972, for example, Senegalese President Leopold Senghor headed a delegation of four African leaders who hoped to help heal the Middle East conflict.
TURNING POINT IN ISRAEL-SENEGAL RELATIONS
The 1973 Yom Kippur War was the turning point in Israel-Senegal relations. Senghor took an openly pro-Arab stand during the hostilities and, under Arab pressure, broke relations with Israel. In the following years, despite a number of meetings with Israeli leaders (as well as one with American Jewish leaders) and rumors of an impending restoration of ties, Senegal continued to pursue an increasingly pro-Arab posture. The change in Israel-Senegal relations is a reflection of several factors:
Senegal has severe economic difficulties. It is heavily dependent on Middle East oil imports and had sought Arab bank loans to aid in development, relief and other economic programs.
Some observers see the pro-Arab stance as a vehicle by which Senegal can achieve its ambition to become the leader of the non-Arab Islamic world and a powerful and influential actor in African-Arab affairs. Others view the change in policy as a way to pacify Senegal’s Muslim population, estimated at over 90 percent of the country and which includes several fundamentalist sects.
Finally, with the replacement of Senghor, a Christian, with Diouf, in 1981, a Moslem, Senegal’s policy tilted even further to the Arab side. The much-hoped for reconciliation between Black Africa and Israel will be almost certain not to include Senegal, at least in the near future, at least under the present regime.