20 May 2018

Kenya on Israel-Palestine Row - Consistency or Pragmatism?

The Kenya is fighting back accusations of sitting on the fence regarding the Israeli-Palestine conflict, arguing instead that it has always been consistent on the issue.

Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau told the Nation, Kenya's position on the longstanding conflict has been constant and has voiced the same before.

"We have spoken on this issue many many times before. Our position is the same. It hasn't changed at all," he said in a brief response on phone.

The strong defence resulted from the large online criticism of the government after it sent representatives to attend the opening of the controversial US Embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, an installation that sparked violent Palestinian protests that led to more than 55 dead.

Some 11 other African countries including Ethiopia, South Sudan and Rwanda were also present at the event.

PROTESTS

But in the wake of the protests, the African Union issued a statement condemning the excessive force Israeli soldiers used on protesters.

"The relocation of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem can only further heighten tensions in the region and complicate the search for a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as illustrated by Monday's incidents" said AU Commission Chairperson Mahamat Faki.

"The AU affirms solidarity with the Palestinian people in their legitimate quest for an independent and sovereign State with East Jerusalem as its capital," his statement added, explaining the AU's position was for a two-state solution.

The Foreign Ministry later released a statement indicating that it supports the AU for a two-state solution "through negotiations based on relevant United Nations resolutions" but also maintained that there exists cordial relations between Kenya and Israel.

SELF DETERMINATION

"Kenya recognises the right of Palestinians to self-determination. Having been colonised, fought for independence and attained self-determination, Kenya is, and will always be sympathetic to any entity seeking self-determination," the statement said.

Despite the conflict lasting decades, critics say Kenya's position has always been fluid, sometimes dictated by the situation. At other times, deliberately delaying to make a stand.

"Our Foreign Policy has been more pragmatic in a negative sense and has been based, most times, on issues which have not been properly analysed," Dr Ben Shihanya, a law scholar at the University of Nairobi said.

"Remember we did not take a very clear stand on this issue and even boycotted a vote at the UN (to condemn decision by US to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem). A properly grounded foreign policy is usually good for the country."

RELOCATE EMBASSY

When the US announced choice to relocate embassy, a UN vote was placed for member countries to endorse a statement condemning the move last December.

Kenya stayed away alongside 21 other countries even though 128 countries voted in favour of the motion. The Kenyan Mission at the UN (then headed by Mr Kamau) later explained they did not take part because the embassy had been closed for holidays.

"Kenya is realistic, you face the situation as it is. This conflict is more than 3,000 years old starting with Ismael and Isaac and it comes with it so much emotional and religious arguments," said Macharia Munene, Professor of history and international relations at the USIU-Africa.

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