President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo announced at the influential American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) conference a desire to renew diplomatic relations with Israel, including the creation of a special “economic section” in Jerusalem, the disputed capital recognized as such by US president Donald Trump in defiance of United Nations resolutions. Tshisekedi was quick to clarify that the Congolese embassy would remain in Tel Aviv and that he would soon appoint an ambassador. A chargé d’affaires has manned the embassy for the past 20 years.
Why It Matters
With the exception of apartheid South Africa, African countries remained largely supportive of the Palestinian cause throughout the Cold War. This continued even after the formal end of the Cold War, providing the PLO and the later the Palestinian Authority a not insignificant level of diplomatic support at the United Nations and elsewhere on the world stage. Over the past year, however, Israel’s Likud government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been making major overtures to African countries to shore up its own diplomatic support. Potential African partners have been enticed by the promise of foreign direct investment from Israel and development assistance in the fields of advanced technology, as Israel is a global leader in high tech.
Tshisekedi’s announcement did not come without criticisms from other Congolese, so internal pressures could put the brakes on any unilateral action taken by the president. Tshisekedi's predecessor, Joseph Kabila, had used the services of Israeli high-tech companies, especially in the diamond trade and electronic surveillance.
Political and Economic Motives
Although Joseph Kabila had close ties to Israeli businesses and consultants, he stayed neutral on the world stage vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and regularly abstained from UN resolutions regarding Palestinian issues. Tshisekedi sees an opportunity to distinguish himself with the Trump administration and move closer to the US president's position on key issues such as Jerusalem and closer ties to Israel. It's important to note that many in Washington did not find Tshisekedi's 2018 electoral victory to be legitimate. Therefore, speaking at an AIPAC conference, which brings together a majority of members of Congress as well as the administration, can only be a boon for Tshisekedi, who needs US support as he seeks to stabilize his country.