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Has Senegal abandoned Palestine?

Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip has been a daily occurrence since October 7, when Hamas launched Operation “Deluge of Al-Aqsa” in retaliation for the occupation's attacks on Palestine and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. To date, more than 10,000 Palestinians have perished under more than 12,000 tons of bombs dropped by Israel on Gaza. In Africa, reactions to this historic conflict are increasingly mixed, while the continent has always shown unfailing support for Palestine. Senegal, which has headed the Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People since 1975, has also taken a less clear stance on Israel since Macky Sall came to power. Senegalese diplomacy is almost inclined to turn the actors in this conflict increasingly against each other, as witnessed by its statement on this massacre in October: "The government of the Republic of Senegal condemns the attacks at the origin of this new spiral of violence and calls on the parties to show restraint", it read. Historically, Senegal has always been a strong ally of Palestine. This new position by the Senegalese authorities condemning Hamas is, above all, contrary to that of the population, which is unwavering in its support for Palestine.


Senegal: a historic ally of Palestine

Senegal, 95% Muslim country, has always been fundamentally pro-Palestinian, at least from the time of its first president, Leopold Sédar Senghor (a Catholic), through Abdoulaye Wade and Abdou Diouf. Support for Palestine has always been ideological, based on Senegal's legalistic tradition and its fight for the right to self-determination and respect for international law. The two countries also share a common denominator in Islam, and Senegalese religious leaders have always had a close relationship with Palestine. In an interview with BBC, the Palestinian ambassador to Dakar recalled the historic ties between Senegal's Tidiane brotherhoods and his country. "Over 200 years ago, Elhadji Oumar Foutiyou Tall passed through Palestine on his way to make the Pilgrimage. The link between the two peoples predates Senegal's independence," he explains, before mentioning Mawlana Cheikh Ibrahim Niass, a key figure of the Tidianiya in Senegal and West Africa. "Sheikh Al Islam Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse visited Palestine in 1954 and established institutional links with the Grand Mufti of Palestine Haj Amine el Husseini, who asked him to lead prayers at the Al Quds Mosque", recalls Sawat Ibraghith.

Senegal's political support for Palestine was prominent during the Senghor and Abdou Diouf years. President Senghor was the first sub-Saharan African leader to welcome Yasser Arafat, former leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), on an official visit. He offered also the revolutionary leader a Senegalese diplomatic passport, as confirmed by ambassador M. Ibraghith: "President Senghor placed Palestinian-Senegalese relations under the seal of solidarity by granting Arafat and his family a Senegalese diplomatic passport to facilitate their movements in Africa and elsewhere at a time when he and his companions were being hunted down by the enemies of Palestine". To cap it all, in 1975 Senegal agreed to chair the Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

Under Abdou Diouf, too, this tradition of a pro-Palestinian foreign policy was respected. In 1989, Senegal was among the first countries to recognize the State of Palestine, proclaimed on December 13, 1988 by Yasser Arafat. In the early of the 2000s Aboulaye Wade's main mission was to "reconcile the Palestinian family". He also wanted to encourage the two-state peace process, drawing on his relations with all the parties involved. "We welcomed Mahmoud Abass here at the OIC summit in 2008. President Wade was very committed to resolving the conflict. He had good relations with the Palestinians. He also had good relations with the world Jewish community. He also managed to establish friendly relations with US President George Bush Jr. All this was done with the aim of resolving the conflict", said Habib Sy, former Minister of State and Chief of Staff to President Wade.

Under Macky Sall, a balancing act is increasingly being adopted.


Senegal under Sall: breaking with a pro-Palestinian tradition?

Yet, in 2016, along with New Zealand, Malaysia and Venezuela, Senegal sponsored UN Security Council Resolution 2334 condemning Israeli colonization in the Palestinian Territories. The abstinence of the United States enabled the resolution to pass. Israel subsequently recalled its ambassador from Dakar, before relations between the two countries returned to normal a year later. Subsequently, Senegalese diplomacy under Macky Sall made one gesture after another that ran counter to its historic pro-Palestinian stance.

On March 27, 2018, Sidiki Kaba, then Senegalese Minister of Foreign Affairs, visited the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in the company of Israeli occupation authorities. A gesture which not only irritated a large part of the Senegalese population, but also the leaders of the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Minister of Information described the visit as "unacceptable" and "both a violation of the OIC consensus and a dangerous event in which Senegalese-Palestinian relations have been compromised".

In 2021, President Macky Sall's communication on the Sheikh Jarra events had finally demonstrated the change of course of Senegalese diplomacy on this conflict. On the occasion of the Aid-El Fitr holiday, he launched a "call" to the Israelis and Palestinians "for de-escalation, so that peace can return and healthy, serene discussions can be initiated between these two communities in compliance with international law". A balanced position, without condemnation, which broke with Senegalese tradition on this conflict. And yet, at the same time, a large demonstration was organized in Dakar by civil society to express its support for the Palestinian people. "If the President puts Israelis and Palestinians back-to-back, there's a disconnect between the people and the government. The demonstration on May 21 proves that the Senegalese people are committed to this tradition of support for the Palestinian cause. For geostrategic and security reasons, because we know that Israel is a leading country for espionage, and no doubt Senegal doesn't want to antagonize such a power", analyzed Diogoye Faye, editor of a Senegalese media outlet.

Senegalese-Israeli cooperation has indeed moved forward. Tel Aviv has become much more present in Senegal. In addition to economic and security cooperation between the two countries, the Israel’s political interference in Senegalese affairs is even under suspicion. In February 2023, an investigation by the multi-media organization Forbidden Stories revealed the work of the Israeli company "Team Jorge", created by former Mossad (espionage) and Shin Beth (internal security) agents, for the re-election of President Macky Sall in 2019, at a cost of 6 million euros. According to the investigation, "Team Jorge"'s activities include: providing à la carte smear and disinformation campaigns, ranging from hacking e-mail boxes to spreading rumors through fake news sites and armies of "avatars", dummy profiles on social networks.

These new interests no doubt explain the rebalancing of Senegalese diplomacy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The latest episode in this new configuration was the communiqué issued by the Senegalese Ministry of Foreign Affairs the day after October 7, when the Zionist state stepped up its bombardments of Gaza, condemning "the attacks at the origin of this new spiral of violence and calling on the parties to show restraint". For researcher Bakary Samb, Senegal is undoubtedly following in the footsteps of Arab countries that have embraced normalization with Israel, making them adopt a less pro-Palestinian stance on this conflict. "These developments in the Arab world have meant that Senegal's position has become measured, clinging to principles that have not changed. If there is a variation in language, it's linked to the variation in positions in the Arab world, particularly in countries like Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Egypt, Senegal's allies in the region".

In Senegal, these positions are particularly criticized on social networks. The Senegalese people are largely committed to the Palestinian cause and do not share the new positions of Senegalese diplomacy. Today, President Makcy Sall has broken with Senegalese tradition on this conflict. Although the recent statement continues to advocate a two-state solution, as envisaged by the United Nations since 1948, Senegal seems to have resolved to no longer prioritize the Palestinian cause in its foreign policy...


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