In the pre-election throes for the presidency, the White House is actively looking for a possible area of focus to showcase “its successes” to everyone, placing particular emphasis in the international arena in this regard on expanding the list of Arab and Muslim countries that are ready, under Washington’s current mediation, to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
And in this context the Washington administration has shown particular vigor in recent days with regard to the treating Saudi Arabia and Sudan as possible candidates to include in this list.
It is worth remembering that to help realize the “deal of the century” previously declared by Donald Trump to reach a settlement in the Middle East, under increased pressure from the White House on September 15th the UAE and Bahrain signed an agreement with Israel in Washington on recognizing the Jewish state. At the same time, the US Department of State began to actively work over Sudan, taking advantage of the country’s interest in having the United States remove it from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. In exchange for the deal, Washington even promised to provide Khartoum with substantial economic aid amounting to billions of dollars.
Currently, Israel and the Republic of Sudan do not have any diplomatic relations.
Sudan has been living through a period of instability since late 2018, driven by the economic downturn and ensuing popular protests. In April 2019, a military coup took place in the country, and President Omar al-Bashir, who had ruled there for 30 years, was removed from power and later imprisoned. The agreement, which was signed on October 3th this year by the Sudanese Transitional Military Council and a coalition of armed groups from the Sudan Revolutionary Front, was an important milestone towards achieving national reconciliation in Sudan.
According to Israeli media outlets, “quiet negotiations” for a truce between Sudan and Israel have already been going on since 2019. In February 2019 Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the Chairman of the Sudanese Transitional Military Council, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and they agreed to work towards gradually normalizing relations. On September 21st this year, at the initiative of Washington, and with its direct participation, a meeting was held in Abu Dhabi between representatives from the United Arab Emirates and Sudan, where they discussed a potential agreement on normalizing relations between Khartoum and Israel. Along with that, it was indicated that the Sudanese government is asking for more than 3 billion USD in humanitarian aid and direct budgetary assistance to help it get through the economic crisis, with Washington and Abu Dhabi allegedly even promising to provide that over the next three years. It was also noted that Khartoum wants US President Donald Trump’s administration to remove the country from the list of countries that sponsors terrorism. However, to accomplish this the Sudanese authorities need to meet a number of requirements, including paying out 300 million USD in compensation to the families of Americans who died as a result of the terrorist attacks.
Concerning Washington’s persistent actions to try to bring the Sudan closer to Israel, these steps are being perceived ambivalently in this African country. For example, in September members of the Islamic Fiqh Academy in Sudan issued a fatwa (religious decree) that prohibits normalizing relations with Israel. Admittedly, in response to this, the head of the Fatwa Department at the Sudan Association of Scientists, Sheikh Abd al-Rahman Hassan Hamid, published another fatwa that allows normalizing relations with Israel.
On October 12th, the former head of the Islamic Fiqh Association of Sudan, Abdul Rahim Ali, pointed to growing resistance from Sudanese political parties, institutions, and certain individuals to normalizing relations with Israel, and warned of unrest in the country should the process of normalizing relations with the Zionist regime be imposed on the Sudanese people. He stressed that nowadays in Sudan the statistical average for those opposed to normalizing relations with the Zionist regime amounts to more than 80%, and they believe that normalizing relations with Israel would mean the occupation of Palestinian lands and depriving Palestinian of their rights.
Incidentally, the steps taken by the UAE and Bahrain on September 15th toward normalizing relations with the Jewish state have already triggered a wave of protests throughout the Islamic world, so the reality that the Sudanese people would take similar actions following this kind of rapprochement with Israel is very real, no matter how badly Washington wants to force Khartoum to do it.
Taking this into consideration, the absence of any specific actions by Khartoum to reach a settlement in its relations with Israel, and given how rapidly time is dwindling until the new upcoming presidential elections in the United States, the White House has begun to show that it is increasingly edgy. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been particularly insistent in pushing for a breakthrough in Sudan’s relations with Israel in recent weeks. According to sources for the TV channel CNN, the United States even promised that if an agreement with the Jewish state is signed in the coming days, it is possible that Sudan will be excluded from the list of states that support terrorism, and that its debts will be restructured. Owing to the White House’s insistent demands, which even have the tones of an ultimatum, on October 15th the Sudanese government was forced to meet to discuss an agreement on normalizing relations with Israel.
Under these conditions, it cannot be ruled out that using coercion on Khartoum will end up forcing it to sign an agreement on recognizing Israel. But whether or not Riyadh makes a similar decision overnight is another matter entirely. After all, the White House and its cowboy attitude is behind all this today, and for it a public demonstration of its “success” is more important than the future of the Middle East. And that includes the future of the Palestinians and ordinary Sudanese, who will doubtlessly not just silently muse upon these events, and could once again plunge this country into another abyss of domestic chaos and instability.
Valery Kulikov, political analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.