African leaders have been presented with a stark choice. Israel waits in vain for a peace partner willing to negotiate without preconditions for the long sought goal of two states for two peoples. The Jewish state looks to Africa as a continent where it can share its pro-growth, innovative, high tech economic experience that can make a genuine difference in the lives of millions. Meanwhile, Abbas' alliance with al-Bashir is nothing short of an embarrassment, a moral and practical dead-end, that reinforces the old line about never failing to miss an opportunity.
As a general rule, it is a mistake in politics to speculate on the motives of others. But it is difficult to avoid asking serious questions following the recent back-to-back visits to Africa by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The questions ultimately go to African leaders who must answer not so much to foreign leaders, but to millions of their own citizens. First, though, some background. Decades ago, Israel had friendly and productive ties to dozens of sub-Saharan countries. Bilateral trade and commercial relations, in both the public and private sectors, proliferated throughout much of the continent. It came to a crashing halt under the pressure of the 1970's-era oil embargo and related blackballing of the Jewish state by Middle East oil-producers. What the Arab nations failed to achieve through war in 1967 -- the openly stated goal of destroying and eliminating Israel -- they hoped to accomplish via economic and diplomatic isolation. With the passage of time, though, as Israel has thrived and the Arab world remains mired in poverty and despotism, many African leaders have begun to question the wisdom of old policies that have done nothing to improve the lives of their people. The one-way deal -- in which Africa has been expected to fall in line with those who vilify and denigrate Israel, while at the same time sustaining terrorist attacks by Islamists against innocent African citizens -- appears to be coming to an end. When Prime Minister Netanyahu met with seven African heads of state, it signaled the turning of the page. It represents the acknowledgment that today's leaders no longer are willing to engage in empty rhetoric and symbolism. A changing, more democratic Africa now expects its leaders to create an environment that can lead to a higher standard of living and quality of life enjoyed by much of the northern hemisphere. The high tech economy that defines Israel today is an attractive model for many African countries, and they want to begin traveling down that road. Israeli know-how in revolutionizing agricultural output, advanced medical care and security technology is only the beginning of the conversation launched by the Netanyahu visit. Just days later, President Abbas arrived hastily to try to blunt the economic development ideas of visionary Africans. His immediate goal seems to be to gain support for Palestinian efforts to internationalize the conflict with Israel, especially in the context of a French proposal that gives the Palestinian President another excuse to avoid direct, face-to-face negotiations with Israel. Sadly, Abbas' motives and tactics are ripe for questioning after his trip to Africa was focused on strengthening ties with Sudan. Upon arrival in Khartoum, the Palestinian President embraced the genocidal Sudanese leader Omar al Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur. This is the leader Abbas chose as his partner with whom "to develop a strategy for the African continent." African leaders have been presented with a stark choice. Israel waits in vain for a peace partner willing to negotiate without preconditions for the long sought goal of two states for two peoples. The Jewish state looks to Africa as a continent where it can share its pro-growth, innovative, high tech economic experience that can make a genuine difference in the lives of millions. Meanwhile, Abbas' alliance with al-Bashir is nothing short of an embarrassment, a moral and practical dead-end, that reinforces the old line about never failing to miss an opportunity. Advocating for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a very important, albeit frustrating, endeavor. But African leaders sensitive to the needs of their own people and the universal demand for greater prosperity are growing tired of sacrificing the benefits of economic development at home. They should be appalled to witness the Palestinian President renew his friendship with an African strongman with more blood on his hands than anyone else on the continent. A good place to give voice to their evolution in thinking about the conflict will come at the annual UN General Assembly meetings in New York next month. Typically, it has been an Israel bashing forum, but the world will take notice if African leaders summon the courage to speak honestly about how and why they have come to see Israel in a new light. If all politics is local, Africans leaders will choose the path to a brighter future for their children, one that holds the promise of greater opportunity, empowerment and a better quality of life. It's time to grasp Israel's outstretched hand.