By Salman Parviz

Sudan: Next step for Arab-Israel normalization?

October 12, 2020 - 13:1

When the so-called "Deal of the Century" was announced on January 29, it was rejected by most of the Muslim world. Just a few days after the Arab League's rejection of the initiative, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the de facto ruler of Sudan, met publicly for the first time with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Entebbe, Uganda, to begin talks for normalization amid objections from domestic politicians, organizations and the general public in Sudan.

Just as the move towards normalization of Sudan-Israel ties helped boost Netanyahu's re-election in March, today's move by Arab countries for normalization of ties with Israel will boost U.S. President Donald Trump's re-election campaign for the November 3 American elections.

Israeli newspaper Maariv recently disclosed that the Sudan and Oman have postponed normalizing ties with Israel until after the U.S. elections adding that the two Arab countries would not offer their "precious gifts" to Trump and Netanyahu before the U.S. elections.

On October 1, Sudan's Islamic government authority issued an Islamic Fatwa – a legal opinion based on Islamic law – announcing its opposition to Khartoum normalizing Israel ties.

Normalizing relations with Israel will not leave Sudan exempt from paying off its external debts, a leader in Forces of Freedom and Chance (FFC) told Sudan Tribune.  Tijani Hussain said that "the components of the FFC coalition, as well as forces affiliated with the left and right wings, have firmly rejected the normalization file, while other parties, including the Socialist Republic Party, support it."

Sudanese top opposition leader and former premier Sadiq al-Mahdi has said Israel "is not a normal state, but an aberration. Normalization is a soft name for surrender and has no connection with peace."

Gen. al-Burhan flew to UAE recently for unofficial talks with American and Emirati officials about a potential economic assistance package for Sudan. A Sudanese official said Sudan had been offered about $800 million in direct aid and investment, which would be paid by the UAE and the U.S., with about $10 million coming from Israel, reports the New York Times.

But the talks failed to yield results as Sudanese officials countered that they need at least $3-4 billion to make a dent in the country's deepening economic crisis.

Israeli media outlets reported that Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with Gen. al-Burhan in Uganda in the near future.

Trump administration and the Israeli government have seen an opportunity in the collapsing Sudanese economy, hyperinflation, and a nationwide food crisis. When South Sudan seceded in 2011, it took away the third quarter of oil production. Sudanese pound against the dollar fell from 145 to 252 over the past month. Inflation stood at 166 percent in August.

It is believed that the U.S. is trying to push Sudan to normalize with Tel Aviv in order to remove it from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, making Sudan eligible for aid and investment.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew in the first-ever direct flight from Israel to Sudan in August and urged al-Burhan to normalize ties with Israel.

However, news agencies quoted a spokesperson for Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok as saying that the transitional government "does not have the mandate" to normalize relations with Israel, indicating a possible rift between Hamdok and Gen. al-Burhan's stand on the matter.

The power-sharing arrangement between the military and civilian parties in Sudan began last August, following a military coup that overthrew the 30-year regime of Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. The power was handed over from the Transitional Military Council to the Sovereign Council, composed of military and civilian leaders.

Under the deal, Sudan would be run by an 11-member sovereign council made up of military and civilian appointees until elections are held. For the first 21 months, the council will be headed by Gen. al-Burhan before the leadership rotates to a civilian.

Last September Sudanese cabinet was formed, and Hamdok was declared prime minister.

Meanwhile, al-Bashir has been in jail in Khartoum since his overthrow. The ICC wants him for alleged war crimes, genocide, and a crime against humanity in Darfur in a conflict that killed an estimated 300,000 people beginning in 2003.

Circling back to the present, Sudan's surging inflation and plummeting currency have been the biggest challenge for the transitional government. The worsening economic situation and opposition to normalization of ties with Israel have further weakened the fragile transitional government.

No government of Muslim-majority Sudan has recognized Israel since independence in 1956. Sudanese soldiers have fought in Arab wars against Israel, while Khartoum's capital was the scene of a 1967 Arab League summit that called for "Three No's": no peace, no recognition, and no negotiations. The two countries are still technically at war.

American efforts to persuade more Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel before the November U.S. elections are focused on Sudan, where negotiations have stalled over the amount of financial incentive promised to Sudan.

Trump has said that "at least five or six countries" are poised to follow UAE and Bahrain in the normalization of ties with Israel on August 13, which Saudi Arabia secretly helped lobby other countries in the region to support the moves.

But the recognition of Israel is a highly contentious issue that could destabilize the fragile Sudanese transitional government.

In the late 1970s and early '80s, tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews fled to Sudan, hoping to immigrate to Israel. Despite Sudanese opposition, Israeli forces carried out secret operations to retrieve them.

Efforts to normalize Arab ties with Israel have one end goal, i.e., the formation of an anti-Iran coalition, which is meant to isolate the Islamic Republic and cause more economic and political uncertainty in the country by waging soft war. The U.S. has been working to resolve the dispute between Qatar and other Persian Gulf states in an effort to strengthen the coalition against Iran.
 

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