The Sovereign Council of Sudan, as the new transitional government is known, established after an agreement between the Sudanese military council and the civil society on May 13, 2019, represents a new era and fresh hopes for Sudan. For the last 27 years, the country has been in the grip of heavy US sanctions: it was inscribed in the US’ blacklist of states which sponsor terrorism in 1993, when Sudan gave shelter to Osama bin Laden and other wanted militants.
Furthermore, Khartoum is believed to have served as a distribution channel for Iran to supply weapons to Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip and to have protected bin Laden when, in 1998, its terrorist network conducted bombings against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The reason behind this unexpected opening toward Sudan is that the new government agreed to pay compensation worth $335 million to the families of victims of the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. On October, 19, president Trump announced that, once Sudan will deposit money, he will lift Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.
Delisting Sudan from the blacklist would bring plenty of relevant consequences. Sudan would finally gain access to the long-awaited international loans, investments, and aid, considered vital to stimulate the suffering economy of the country as well as to facilitate its path to democracy.
It is worth mentioning that Sudan is deemed a ‘fragile state’ on a delicate transition, after a popular rebellion led the military to overthrow autocratic leader Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. The new government is set to remain temporarily in power to prepare the ground for free and democratic elections, scheduled in late 2022.
On the American side, the move to delist Sudan from the blacklist is part of a broader strategy to push Arab countries to formally recognise Israel and to normalise relations with it. Of course, the lifting of sanctions can be seen as a strong incentive.
While Congress is expected to approve the removal, once the formal notification of the president arrives, Sudan is taking steps toward the recognition of Israel. However, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has pointed out that there is no linkage between the updating of its relationship with the US and its process of recognising Israel.
The main turning point has been a high-level meeting held last month in Dubai (UAE), in which General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, head of the Sudanese Sovereign Council, and other top officials had separate talks with UAE’s leadership and US Secretary of State, Pompeo. According to the Sudanese Justice Minister Naser-Eddin Abdelbari, the summit has been useful towards the “removal of [the] name of Sudan from the list of states sponsoring terrorism, support of the transitional period, and writing off American debts on Sudan”.
According to the Axios website, the US, Emirati and Sudanese officials would hold a purposeful summit in Abu Dhabi to arrive at a possible normalisation agreement between Sudan and Israel that resembles the US-mediated deals attained by the UAE and Bahrain in recent weeks.
The Sudanese deletion clarified its desire to be awarded for the eventual recognition of Israel. Specifically, it required economic aid to be provided over the next three years, in the form of disbursement of $3bn in humanitarian assistance and direct budgetary aid to cope with the harsh economic conditions.
The rapprochement of Israel and Sudan was already on the regional agenda, at least in hypothetical terms, as of last February, when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and the chairman of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan met up in Uganda. From that moment onwards, the two countries engaged in relatively warm and frequent talks.
Despite that occasion, Al-Burhan outlined Khartoum’s position on the Palestinian issue, reaffirming the right of Palestinians to have their statehood recognised and accepted by Tel Aviv, and Israeli commercial planes soon began overflying Sudan. It goes without saying that the Israeli state is soliciting Washington to comply with Sudanese requests to have the normalisation deal signed as quickly as possible.
There is still a palpable uncertainty among Sudanese officials about the timing and the measure of the rapprochement with Israel. While the military component of the Sovereign Council, led by Al-Burhan, is favourable to the rapprochement, the civilian side, represented by PM Hamdok, maintained some scruple about it. Besides, it has been persuaded that the normalisation deal is in Sudanese interest, as it is instrumental for getting economic aid and the name of the nation removed from the US Terrorism List, which makes Sudan ineligible for loans from international financial institutions and limits potential foreign investments.
After some hesitation, on October 23, the Sudanese government agreed to recognise Israel and to normalise diplomatic relations. The agreement has been definitively reached through a trilateral phone call between US president Donald Trump, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, and Sudanese PM Abdalla Hamdok and Transitional Council Head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
A joint statement, published by the three countries points out that “The leaders agreed to the normalisation of relations between Sudan and Israel and to end the state of belligerence between their nations”. This has been followed by a declaration by Trump, who is confident about further recognition of the Jewish state by the Palestinians and the other nations of the region, including Saudi Arabia.
Khartoum is the fifth country in line, after Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and UAE, to take this step. The agreement has been welcomed by the Arab monarchies as “an important step to boost security and prosperity in the region”.
On the other side, of course, the reaction of Palestinians has been quite harsh, as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official Wasel Abu Youssef deemed Sudan’s decision to normalise relations with Israel as a “new stab in the back” for the Palestinians.
Despite the long mediation process, however, the new-born relation between Tel Aviv and Khartoum will not immediately take the form of a political and diplomatic, formal relationship, as the agreement on the normalisation will be decided after the complete formation of the state’s institutions through the appointment of the legislative council. In order to be created, the above-mentioned council needs a power-sharing deal between the military and civilian counterparts. The timing of this operation is still uncertain.
Furthermore, according to an Israeli statement, the two countries agreed to start from the economic and commercial fields, most notably with an initial emphasis on agriculture, while the formal establishment of diplomatic ties will be discussed and performed only at a later stage.
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