Date: Friday, 23 October 2020
In a deal that will usher in billions in aid money and potential immunity for top Sudanese military figures, Sudan, Israel and the United States announced the commencement of a gradual normalization process between Sudan and Israel.
“The leaders agreed to the normalization of relations between Sudan and Israel and to end the state of belligerence between their nations,” according to a joint statement issued by the three countries. Sudan is the third Arab country to normalize relations with Israel in the last two months, following the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in striking deals.
According to the joint statement, the leaders agreed to begin economic and trade relations, with an initial focus on agriculture. Delegations from each country will meet in the following weeks to negotiate agreements of cooperation in those areas as well as in agriculture technology, aviation, migration issues and other areas, the statement added.
The deal follows a senior US-Israeli delegation to Sudan earlier this week to discuss normalization between the two countries, two senior Sudanese officials told the Associated Press on Thursday.
The delegation, which included Ronen Peretz, the acting director-general of Netanyahu’s office, and Brigadier General Miguel Correa, the senior director for Gulf affairs on the US National Security Council, met with General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan’s transitional government and a top adviser to Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, one of the Sudanese officials told AP.
As the negotiations unfold beyond Egypt, however, Egyptian officials are expressing substantial concerns that the normalization process could see them lose influence in Sudan.
Developments between Sudan and the US were kickstarted earlier this week when US President Donald Trump announced that officials in DC and Khartoum had reached an agreement on removing Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism — a designation that dates back to 1993 for the regime of deposed President Omar al-Bashir’s support of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah among other groups. Trade sanctions were lifted in 2017.
As a condition of the deal, Sudan must pay $355 million to compensate US victims and their families of the 1998 Al-Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, in which Sudan was found complicit, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday. Sudan has long sought to be removed from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, which will pave the way for it to seek international aid.
The White House announced on Friday that Trump has informed Congress of his intent to formally rescind Sudan’s designation.
Thanking Trump on Twitter, Hamdok on Friday emphasized that Sudan continues to coordinate with the US administration and Congress to complete the process of delisting Sudan. “We look forward to external relations that best serve the interest of our people,” Hamdok wrote.
“Everything Trump announced in recent days was agreed upon a while ago at a meeting in the UAE [on September 23], which was attended by delegates of the four countries,” a Sudanese official close to the prime minister tells Mada Masr. “Sudan demanded $3 billion to be delivered in the form of materials, food, medicine and fuel, in exchange for its approval of normalization, and the UAE, playing the mediating role, offered to pay $600 million [toward general aid].”
According to an Egyptian source informed of the negotiations, Hamdok initially balked at including normalization with Israel in the deal, but later accepted when the UAE and the US increased the amount of aid that they would grant Sudan — money that is vital to help prop up the country’s struggling economy and Hamdok’s development plans.
At least one demonstrator was shot dead and more than two dozen others wounded in Khartoum, according to the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors, in demonstrations on Wednesday over the dire living conditions in the country.
The source close to Hamdok adds that the prime minister had been insisting that normalization occur in a gradual process over a period of up to two years.
Hamdok struck a similar note previously, having told Pompeo in an August meeting in Khartoum that the transitional government “was not mandated to normalize ties with Israel,” indicating such a move should come after a democratically elected government is installed.
However, the prime minister seems to be less worried about the potential blowback such a decision would now have. According to the Sudanese official, Hamdok has told those close to him that the leaders in the Freedom and Change Coalition, the umbrella civilian body that championed the revolution and led talks with the military to form the transitional government, have become more flexible and that they will not take a strong stance against the deal as they would have before.
During a meeting at the beginning of October to discuss normalization with Israel, Sudanese Ambassador to the United States Noureddin Satti told assembled Sudanese political leaders in the US that “the prime minister stands behind the normalization and considers it a good step, but there is a strong desire to gradually accomplish it during the transitional period, which Hamdok supports,” according to the source who attended the meeting.
Satti, the source adds, has played a key role in facilitating discussions with the US administration.
Sudan is on a fragile path to democracy fraught with divisions between the military and civilian wings of the transitional government installed after a popular uprising last year led the military to oust Omar al-Bashir. Elections have been discussed as possible in late 2022.
While the aid money will prove vital to prop up Sudan’s faltering economy, the military wing of the government, particularly Burhan and Mohamed “Hemedti” Hamdan Dagalo, is looking to normalization to avoid prosecution by the International Criminal Court in connection to the Bashir government’s war crimes and genocide in Darfur.
According to the informed Egyptian source, Pompeo informed Burhan that there would be strong US pressure to exempt Hemedti and Burhan from any ICC prosecution.
During a visit to Sudan this week, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda was photographed shaking the hand of Hemedti, who helmed militias that carried out a scorched-earth policy in Darfur at the behest of Bashir and was such a prominent figure in the Darfur war crimes that he featured in the 2008 ICC request to arrest Bashir.
While the Trump administration may look at rapprochement between Sudan and Israel as a feather in its cap ahead of the upcoming presidential elections that sees the current US president lagging behind his opponent Joe Biden in national polls, Egypt is looking more askance at the developments.
“There is a certain unease among some circles of power in Cairo over the development,” says the informed Egyptian source, as a rapprochement with Sudan would allow Israel to establish relief organizations across Sudan, giving it significant influence in the country. There is also a concern that Israel would pursue water-intensive projects in Sudan as it has in Ethiopia, the source adds.
In recent days, there have been several Sudanese delegations visiting Cairo to update Egyptian officials on the negotiations with Israel, according to a second Sudanese official.
Nonetheless, an Egyptian official close to the official corridors of power agrees with the assessment of unease, saying that Egypt is “extremely disturbed about the second wave of normalization” following Israel’s normalization agreements with the UAE and Bahrain in the last two months.
“Egypt has not been informed enough nor reassured enough about what this deal will mean,” the official says.
Egypt has historically been the main interlocutor with Israel over the past 40 years, ever since it became the first Arab country to establish formal diplomatic ties with Israel following the 1979 Camp David peace treaty. Over the last decade, Egypt’s influence in the region has waned, with the UAE and Saudi Arabia emerging as the top regional power brokers. The UAE’s decision to normalize relations with Israel, followed by Bahrain — with the blessing of Saudi Arabia — risks further marginalizing Cairo’s influence in the region.