Mauritania and Palestine. Decades of advocacy and years of normalization
Highlights: Mauritania and Palestine. Decades of advocacy and years of normalization. Despite the previous tendency of Mauritanian officials to normalize with Israel, the popular incubator supporting the Palestinian cause prompted the country’s rulers to retreat from normalization relations despite international pressure on Nouakchott. Mauritania’s President of the Republic, Mokhtar Ould Daddah, was the spearhead of the struggle against the occupation, despite the very bad political and economic conditions he was suffering from at the time.
Despite the previous tendency of Mauritanian officials to normalize with Israel, the popular incubator supporting the Palestinian cause prompted the country’s rulers to retreat from normalization relations despite international pressure on Nouakchott.
Nouakchott – At the end of the fifties and at the height of the Arab refusal to recognize Mauritania’s independence, former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir tried to shake hands with Mauritania’s founding president Mokhtar Ould Daddah during the inauguration of a bridge in the Ivorian capital Abidjan.
But Ould Daddah’s response was categorical and decisive: « I will not shake hands with this hand stained with the blood of innocent people in Palestine, we are Arabs, whether we accept the Arabs or reject us. »
In the following decades, the same position continued to govern the Mauritanian vision officially and popularly, and the post-independence government made strenuous efforts for the Palestinian cause, making it the title of a battle in West Africa, embracing the struggle in support of it, and sheltering numbers of Palestinians.
Rejection from the cradle
In fact, the official Mauritanian position in support of the Palestinian cause preceded even the establishment of the Mauritanian state, as years before the country’s independence from French colonialism, Mauritanian MP Ahmedou Ould Harma Ould Babana stood against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, clearly declaring his position rejecting the establishment of the State of Israel.
During the early years of the country’s independence (1960), Mauritanian support for Palestine took on an official dimension that did not care about the many challenges at the time, and the President of the Republic, Mokhtar Ould Daddah, was the spearhead of the struggle against the occupation, despite the very bad political and economic conditions he was suffering from at the time.
The researcher and historian Sidi Omar Ould Cheikhna – Al Jazeera Net – explains that Ould Daddah refused any compromise on Mauritania’s position on supporting Palestine, even when he is in dire need of solidarity, after the Arabs refused to accept the country as a member of the Arab League during the « Chtoura » conference in Lebanon.
However, the state not only took a position of theoretical solidarity, but raised the bar even further when in 1967 it took an advanced step in the methods of rejection, and severed diplomatic relations with Britain and the United States after the June setback, Ould Cheikhna said.
Despite its young origins and limited resources, Mauritania played a larger role in this file than it was at the time, especially on the African continent, where Ould Daddah enjoyed balanced relations with most of its prominent leaders.
According to researcher Sidi Mohamed Ould Ahmed Zerough, Mokhtar Ould Daddah’s greatest role was diplomatic, especially during his tenure as chair of the African Union from July 1972 to July 1973.
Ould Daddah was able to convince many African countries to sever their ties with Israel, and the country opened its doors to the Palestinians, so Nouakchott received a large Palestinian community, including persecuted leaders of the Palestinian National Liberation Movement (Fatah), police officers, merchants and many families, and granted them passports.
The Mauritanian government also decided to broadcast the Voice of Palestine radio from Mauritania on the official radio for years, and the Mauritanian passport for decades carried a phrase saying that it enters all countries of the world except the « Zionist entity » and South Africa because of the apartheid regime at the time, according to Zarrouk.
In the latter half of the nineties of the last century, and on the back of differences that seemed to be escalating between France and the regime of former Mauritanian President Maaouya Ould Taya, the latter decided to turn the page opened by President Mokhtar Ould Daddah, and his face turned to Tel Aviv as « the most appropriate way to present his credentials » to Washington.
The normalization process was shrouded in great secrecy, especially at the beginning of its formation, when two offices were opened to look after interests in the Spanish embassies in Tel Aviv and Nouakchott in 1996, before raising the level of diplomatic representation to the level of ambassadors in 1999.
According to former Mauritanian Foreign Minister Ahmedou Ould Sidi Ahmed, relations with Israel began « at a time when Mauritania was suffering from diplomatic isolation, as the doors of international funding and aid bodies were blocked ».
The minister added in a statement that he was « encouraged at the time by the orientation of a number of Arab countries towards establishing relations with Israel, and the launch of the Barcelona process, the Madrid Conference and the Oslo Accords. »
Diplomatic relations between Mauritania and Israel lasted about a decade (from 1999 to 2009), and four presidents succeeded during this period.
They include Ould Taya, who initiated it, Presidents Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, who ruled the country during a transitional period between 2005 and 2007 after the coup against Ould Taya, and Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, who ruled from July 2007 to August 2008, and who maintained relations without development or strengthening.
The fourth president is Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who announced in January 2009 a freeze on Mauritanian-Israeli relations after the Gaza summit in Doha, Qatar.
Like all Mauritanians, I am pained by the killing, siege and displacement of the brotherly Palestinian people.
If the wise people of the world and people of conscience do not remedy the atrocities that are happening in Palestine, today’s crime will be the last nail in confidence in justice and international laws, charters and norms.
— Mohamed Cheikh El Ghazouani Mohamed Ould Cheikh Ghazouani (@CheikhGhazouani) October 17, 2023
Throughout the years in which these relations continued, popular anger was rising, and the pace of coup attempts against the Ould Taya regime accelerated, and dozens of scholars and imams were imprisoned after their sermons and lectures rejecting normalization, most notably the fatwa of the scholar Sheikh Muhammad al-Hassan al-Dedew, signed by the country’s most prominent scholars, and explicitly and strongly stipulated the prohibition of normalization.
Despite the continuation of the Ould Taya regime in normalization, some of those close to him politically believe that he was not convinced of it, and that his management of the file confirms this, as his Minister of Agriculture replied when he reviewed projects that the Israelis want to implement in the agricultural field, saying, « We do not want this relationship to go beyond what it is now, and we will not result in anything else. »
The popular rejection was not limited to demonstrations and fatwas, but also took on other dimensions when Dr. Zayed Ould Khattat, a member of an Israeli medical delegation, slapped a member of an Israeli medical delegation in the face during his visit to the largest hospital in the capital, Nouakchott.
Mauritanian poet and journalist Moulay Abdallah also refused to accept his prize – after winning his poem about the child Hoda Ghalia, who remained alone on the Gaza beach – after noticing the Israeli ambassador attending the ceremony in which he will receive his award.
In 2008, popular pressure increased to end the « anomalous » state of normalization, as described by then-Mauritanian Parliament Speaker Messaoud Ould Belkheir, especially after the coup against President Ould Cheikh Abdallahi and the arrival of a new regime for fear of continuing the path of its predecessors.
The military regime led by President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz responded at the end of the same year, summoning the Mauritanian ambassador, and then giving the Israeli ambassador 48 hours to leave Nouakchott, announcing the closure of the embassy.
In a symbolic move, bulldozers were sent to open the street in front of the embassy, which it had closed for years, in a scene that brought widespread relief to Mauritanians and increased the popularity of the next president at the time through a coup that faced widespread political rejection.
Following in the footsteps of his predecessor, President Mohamed Ould Cheikh Ghazouani kept severing ties, his ruling party led a campaign of political support and financial donations, participated in rallies in front of the United Nations and Western embassies in Nouakchott, participated for the first time in a march in support of the resistance, and appointed a representative of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) in Mauritania.
Despite Mauritania’s strong official position in rejecting the rejection of a political incubator and popular satisfaction, regional and international bodies have exerted pressure on the country to return to normalization.
Analysts believe that at this time – when normalization surrounds Mauritania and European and American pressure is increasing – Mauritanian forces must take escalatory steps against any rapprochement with Israel.
It should also intensify efforts in support of the advanced official position, praising its strength and comprehensiveness, from tweets by the president, to blogs and statements by his ministers, and then leading the ruling party and the majority to demonstrations and donations after Operation Al-Aqsa Flood.
Despite all that is being talked about, the support that the Palestinian cause enjoys today, consensus and action for it is an advanced situation that Mauritania has not officially reached since independence.
Source : Al Jazeera