The United States has required Kenya to support Israel’s commercial and political interests or forget a free trade agreement (FTA) with Washington, with activists warning that the inclusion of Israel in the bilateral deal would undermine the Kenyan reputation.
Washington and Nairobi recently resumed trade pact talks after a several-week halt. The US has set a raft of conditions in the ongoing negotiations for the bilateral deal.
In its objectives seen by the Kenyan newspaper East African, Washington has indicated that the conditional deal should, with respect to commercial partnerships, discourage actions that prejudice or discourage business between the United States and Israel.
The White House argues that the FTA should "discourage politically motivated actions to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel."
The US also wants the "elimination of politically motivated, non-tariff barriers on Israeli goods, services, or other commerce imposed on Israel; and the elimination of State-sponsored, unsanctioned foreign boycotts of Israel, or compliance with the Arab League Boycott of Israel."
"The United States published its negotiating position before negotiations began for all to see. We are negotiating with transparency and openness," said the US ambassador to Kenya, Kyle McCarter, when asked about the inclusion of Israel in the trade talks.
"This is how we have treated the numerous other countries with which we have concluded successful free trade agreements benefiting both parties."
The inclusion of Israel as a third party in the negotiation agenda has sparked criticism from activists who warn that the agreement could be too risky for Kenya.
The East African Tax and Governance Network (EATGN) and East African Trade Network (EATN), the groups who have been following developments on the matter, said Nairobi was being "entrapped" in the Palestine-Israeli conflict.
"Due to Kenya's own special relationship with Israel and its pragmatic approach in dealing with issues like tensions in the Middle East, US demands for such political connotations in the USFTA would undercut the country's reputation," said Leonard Wanyama, the co-ordinator of the EATGN and vice-president of the International Relations Society of Kenya, a lobby for foreign policy experts in Nairobi.
This week, the Tax Network said Washington's demand could place Nairobi in a difficult situation. It called for officials to reject the demand.
Nairobi's own published objectives indicate the agreement must be discussed within the limits of the East African Community (EAC) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations.
Kenya also wants a deal that takes into consideration the "special and differential treatment applicable to Kenya as a developing country," according to the report.
Traditionally, Kenya has often recognized Israel, but rarely makes a public statement endorsing one side or the other and supports the so-called two-state solution to the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It allows Palestine to establish a representative office in Nairobi.
Last year, Israel’s Channel 13 said in a report that Israeli commandos were training local forces in more than a dozen African nations where Israeli arms exporters are already accused of being complicit in war crimes.
The channel showed footage of Israeli officers coaching Tanzanian troopers in hand-to-hand krav maga, hostage operations and urban combat, saying there was a dramatic rise in Tel Aviv's military activities in Africa.
Tel Aviv’s policy to spice up ties with Africa, the report said, also features combined efforts by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, military, the Mossad spy agency and the regime’s security agency Shin Bet.
The report named Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Angola, Nigeria, Cameroon, Togo, Ivory Coast and Ghana as the African countries that Israel was seeking to stake out a niche with.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made inroads into Africa a key part of his agenda, becoming the first Israeli leader to visit the continent in 50 years in 2016.
The US demand for protection of Israeli interests means that Washington seeks to counter the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which targets Israel, according to the East African report.
The BDS movement was initiated in 2005 by over 170 Palestinian organizations and later turned international. It is meant to initiate “various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law” and end its occupation of Palestinian lands.
The BDS, which was inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, has claimed several recent successes in isolating Israel.
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