Benjamin Netanyahu was wise to immediately recognize the new Republic of South Sudan over the weekend. Some analysts saw it is as a convenient way to show Israel off as a consistent, ethical country. Recognizing a state which won its independence through negotiations is apparently the right message to send as it argues against Palestinian unilateralism. But the moment might present more implications for Israeli foreign policy which might have been unthinkable in 2010. An editorial by G Pascal Zachary recently published by The Atlantic challenged readers to rethink Africa and to rethink independence. He suggested that there is nothing rational about preserving Africa’s borders – they are artificial he reminds us, being inventions of European empires less than 200 years ago. They represent European divisions, not African ones, and forcing countries and their very diverse or combative tribes to stick together may be wishful thinking and mortally fallible.
The creation of South Sudan builds a case for more countries to be created. Somaliland, Puntland and Darfur are offered as African examples of appropriate candidates for independence by Zachary. The implications come in that Israel too should come to embrace this philosophy. This initially would seem counter-intuitive – pushing for the independence of new countries might justify the independence of Palestine at a time not of Israel’s choosing nor at its convenience. But this is not a self-defeating proposition. New countries offer new partners for Israel, whether they are partners in peace or partners in war.
It is in Israel’s immediate interest to facilitate the rapid build of South Sudan. The country needs roads, new oil pipelines and cheap means of transportation for 8 million people. It also sits in the heart of Africa and adjacent to traditional enemy, the Republic of Sudan, who has been caught twice in the past two years facilitating weapons supplies on their way to the Gaza Strip. So too, the deployment of ambassadors, CEOs and perhaps even generals is warranted to other would be republics in the now defunct Somalia, the “crumbling empire” of Sudan as Zachary so calls it, and all around the southern Sahara. Yigal Palmor said it himself in 2010, Israel might align with and recognize Somaliland as part of its fight against Islamic militants in the Horn of Africa
The Balkans and the Caucasus have seen the birth of Kosovo, Abkhazia and South Ossetia over the past three years. These examples will quickly be project into the Middle East. Libya faced the prospect of a long-term division just this year, and speculators foresee Syria too could split between ethnic rivals as well.
As Israel expands the reach of its ambassadors, it should opt for the less conventional path as well, embracing the breakaway states of the new world. These states face the same challenges tiny Israel fought in its struggle for recognition. Few states enjoy global support and some only enjoy the recognition of a single patron. Abkhazia and South Ossetia depend on Russia; North Cyprus on Turkey. They are likely to embrace back seeking support wherever they can find it. This could be the making of a modern incarnation of the Doctrine of the Periphery. It is well worth consideration.