Strategic Neutrality or Diplomatic Tightrope?

Nov 11 , 2023
By Hintsa Andebrhan

Ethiopia’s abstention in a United Nations (UN) vote on a ceasefire for humanitarian aid in Gaza has sparked surprise and drew attention, as it appears at odds with the expectations of a country led by a Nobel Peace laureate, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD).

The abstention raises questions about whether Ethiopia seeks support from Israel on the global stage, primarily due to the internal crisis and geopolitical tensions with Egypt over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). By abstaining, Ethiopia could be angling for diplomatic backing, albeit in a complex matrix where the interests of the United States and Egypt, both influential allies of Israel, are deeply interwoven.

In the language of diplomacy, abstention can often be a strategic move, indicating a desire to remain neutral or to avoid making a difficult decision on contentious issues. In the case of Gaza, Ethiopia’s position is less indicative of strategic diplomacy and more a signal of either indecision or overcautious politics. Prime Minister Abiy has been clear about his ambitions for Ethiopia to be a significant player in the geopolitics of the Red Sea arena. Yet, the recent abstention could suggest a miscalculation in Ethiopia’s diplomatic posture, potentially undermining its broader strategic objectives.

There should be a concern that Ethiopia’s understanding of Arab countries’ foreign policies about Israel and Palestine may be lacking, potentially jeopardising its efforts to navigate the geopolitics of the region. There is a call for Ethiopia to develop a more autonomous and informed foreign policy, one that is less influenced by Western powers and their now assertive adversaries and more attuned to the dynamics of Middle Eastern geopolitics.

As the global focus shifts between geopolitical hotspots, from the Russian-Ukrainian conflict to the Israeli-Palestinian tensions, US President Joe Biden has expressed confidence in managing both crises concurrently. This contrasts with the more cautious view of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who has warned of the domestic economic strain of supporting military aid to both Ukraine and Israel. The shifting spotlight has seemingly placed Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in a position of expressing concern over his country’s plight being overshadowed by the Gaza conflict.

This situation underscores the competitive nature of international crises for global attention and resources.

The dichotomy in approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also evident on the world stage. Western countries traditionally advocate for dialogue, while powers like Russia and China push for definitive resolutions, such as the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

In Africa, responses to the Israel-Palestine conflict are varied. Countries like South Africa and Algeria have voiced strong support for Palestine, revealing a divide across the continent. A few of the African countries have chosen silence or neutrality, while others displayed open solidarity with either Israel or Palestine.

Taking a side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a simple decision for any administration, particularly for one navigating without a clearly defined and articulated foreign policy. While political and diplomatic positions are crucial, at the heart of the matter is a moral and legal obligation to uphold human dignity and the imperative to support humanitarian causes.

For Ethiopia, a country often hailed as a symbol of early human civilisation and freedom, abstaining from the UN vote is more than a political manoeuvre — it touches on the core values of human solidarity and the country’s historical ethos. The decision to abstain, thus, is not merely a reflection of Ethiopia’s current diplomatic strategy but also its place and identity on the international stage.

PUBLISHED ON Nov 11,2023 [ VOL 24 , NO 1228]

Hintsa Andebrhan ( worked as a researcher with the United Nations Population Fund and IPAS International Ethiopia. Interested in history and politics, his work was on social affairs.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Put your comments here

N.B: A submit button will appear once you fill out all the required fields.

Editors' Pick


Fortune news