Sudan & Israel Say Talks Underway for Deal to Normalize Ties

Israel
(Emil Salman/Haaretz Pool via AP)
Sudan on Tuesday expressed interest in a peace deal with Israel, saying a treaty creating diplomatic ties between Jerusalem and Khartoum could be signed by the end of the year or in early 2021.

The announcement was immediately feted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met with Sudan’s transitional leader earlier this year in a diplomatic breakthrough after years of enmity.

Sudan’s declaration came days after the United Arab Emirates on Thursday agreed to forge diplomatic ties with Israel, sparking feverish speculation over which Arab country would next transform its covert ties with the Jewish state into open recognition.

Sudan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Haidar Badawi Sadiq told Sky News Arabia on Tuesday that Sudan “aspires towards a peace agreement with Israel… a relationship of equals built upon Khartoum’s interests.”

“There’s no reason for the enmity to continue,” Sadiq said. “We do not deny the communication between the two countries.”

“Both Sudan and Israel will benefit from such an agreement if it is signed, at the end of this year or the beginning of next year,” he continued, referring to Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen’s prediction of a Sudan-Israel agreement by the end of 2020.

Sadiq also praised the agreement to normalize ties between the United Arab Emirates and Israel as “courageous.”

A Sudanese government official told The Associated Press that deliberations between Sudanese and Israeli officials have been going on for months, with help from Egypt, the UAE and the US.

“It’s a matter of time. We are finalizing everything. The Emirati move encouraged us and helped calm some voices within the government who were afraid of backlash from the Sudanese public,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

Arab countries have long conditioned their recognition of Israel on the formation of a Palestinian state and relinquishing of territories captured in 1967. But the UAE agreement appeared to herald a dramatic shift, whereby Arab-Israeli peace could precede an agreement with the Palestinians. With Sudan, that shift would gain symbolic heft, given Khartoum’s role as the birthplace of the Arab League’s so-called “three-nos” policy of 1967 — no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel.

A high-ranking Palestinian Liberation Organization member on Tuesday lamented Sudan’s interest in peace with Israel.

“Where are the living revolutionary people of Sudan?” asked senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi.

Netanyahu cheered the announcement, saying: “Israel, Sudan and the region will all benefit from a peace deal and will be able to build a better future together for all nations of the region.”

“We will do everything necessary to make this vision a reality,” added Netanyahu in a statement released by his office on Tuesday evening.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, in a tweet, said Sudan’s position signifies a “fundamental change that is taking place these days in the Middle East, and in Sudan in particular, exactly 53 years after the Khartoum Conference in which Sudan opposed recognition and a peace agreement with the State of Israel.”

“I welcome any step that promotes normalization, peace, agreements and recognition between countries,” said Ashkenazi, adding that Israeli diplomats will work on drafting “a peace agreement that respects the interests of both sides.”

Speculation about warming ties between the two countries has been building since Netanyahu met with the leader of the Sudanese transitional government, Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Burhan, in February.

Sudan, a Muslim-majority African country, is on a fragile path to democracy after a popular uprising led the military to overthrow former autocratic president Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. A military-civilian government now rules the country, with elections possible in late 2022.

Two weeks after meeting the Arab state’s leader in Uganda, Netanyahu said later in February that an Israeli aircraft had made a first flight over Sudan. Israel and Sudan were “discussing rapid normalization,” Netanyahu said at the time, adding that “the first Israeli airplane passed yesterday over the skies of Sudan.”

Burhan, by contrast, denied normalization had been raised.

Sudan, a longtime member of the Arab League, has joined other member states in rejecting the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that Palestinians have said is heavily biased toward Israel. But to rebuild Sudan’s economy, the new administration in Khartoum also seeks an end to American sanctions as a US-listed state sponsor of terror.

The designation dates back to the 1990s, when Sudan briefly hosted Osama bin Laden and other wanted terrorists. Sudan was also believed to have served as a pipeline for Iran to supply weapons to Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip. Israel was thought to have been behind airstrikes in Sudan that destroyed a convoy in 2009 and a weapons factory in 2012.

Last week, the United Arab Emirates said it would establish full diplomatic ties with Israel, which would make it just the third Arab nation to do so, after Egypt and Jordan. The dramatic announcement set off a flurry of excitement in Israel, bringing years of covert business and security ties into the open and adding an appealing tourist destination for travel-happy Israelis.

The US-brokered deal — which will also see Israel suspend its plans to annex a large part of the West Bank — has been billed as a diplomatic breakthrough that formalizes the burgeoning alliance against Iran.

Thursday’s surprise statement has instantly set off speculation over which Arab nation will be next, with attention focused on Bahrain, Oman and Sudan. On Monday, Oman and Israel said their foreign ministers had spoken and, according to Israel, agreed to “maintain direct and continual contact.”

For Israel, Saudi Arabia — which still has not commented publicly on the UAE’s decision — would be the ultimate prize. Senior White House Adviser Jared Kushner has predicted the kingdom will eventually agree to relations with Israel.