Sudan and Israel have agreed to normalise relations, US President Donald Trump announced on Friday at the White House, a move that was denounced by Palestinians as a “new stab in the back”.
Trump, who is seeking re-election on November 3, sealed the agreement in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Transitional Council Head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, senior US officials said.
“The leaders agreed to the normalisation of relations between Sudan and Israel and to end the state of belligerence between their nations,” a joint statement issued by the three countries read.
Trump added that he expects the Palestinians and other nations, including Saudi Arabia, to also agree to closer ties with Israel in the coming months.
“This will be the third country where we’re doing this – and we have many, many more coming,” Trump said.
Khartoum is now the third Arab government to normalise relations with Israel in the last two months, after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
The UAE welcomed the Israel-Sudan deal, saying it is “an important step to boost security and prosperity in the region”.
Sudan’s acting foreign minister said on Friday, however, the agreement for normalising ties with Israel will depend on approval from its yet-to-be formed legislative council.
“Agreement on normalisation with Israel will be decided after completion of the constitutional institutions through the formation of the legislative council,” Omar Gamareldin said on state TV.
Sudan’s yet-to-be-formed council still needs to be established under a power-sharing deal between the military officers and civilians, who have been running Sudan jointly since the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir in 2019. It is unclear when the assembly will be formed.
‘New stab in the back’
Speaking in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official Wasel Abu Youssef said Sudan’s decision to normalise relations with Israel was a “new stab in the back” for the Palestinians.
“Sudan’s joining others who normalised ties with the state of the Israeli occupation represents a new stab in the back of the Palestinian people and a betrayal of the just Palestinian cause,” Abu Youssef said.
He said the African state’s decision to follow the UAE and Bahrain “will not shake the Palestinians’ faith in their cause and in continuing their struggle”.
In the besieged Gaza Strip, Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for the Palestinian group, Hamas, a traditional ally of Sudan, told the Reuters news agency the decision was a step in the “wrong direction”.
The Trump administration has sought to advance deals between Israel and Arab nations as part of its push to reach a so-called “Deal of the Century” to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and shore up support among the US president’s Evangelical Christian base ahead of the upcoming elections.
Speaking in front of reporters in the Oval Office, Trump asked Netanyahu – who was on speakerphone – if he believed Joe Biden, his Democratic presidential opponent whom he called “Sleepy Joe”, could have helped broker such a deal.
Netanyahu answered: “One thing I can tell you is we appreciate the help for peace from anyone in America, and we appreciate what you’ve done enormously.”
Netanyahu welcomed what he called a rapidly expanding “circle of peace” and the start of a “new era”.
Designation to be lifted
Trump’s decision earlier this week to remove Sudan from the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism paved the way for the deal with Israel, marking a foreign policy achievement for the Republican president as he seeks a second term trailing behind Biden in opinion polls.
Trump announced on Monday he would take Sudan, which the US designated as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993, off the list once it had deposited $335m it had pledged to pay in compensation.
HUGE win today for the United States and for peace in the world. Sudan has agreed to a peace and normalization agreement with Israel! With the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, that’s THREE Arab countries to have done so in only a matter of weeks. More will follow! pic.twitter.com/UHB8H6oaZc
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 23, 2020
Khartoum has since placed the funds in a special escrow account for victims of al-Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
Shortly before the Israel-Sudan deal was announced, Trump notified Congress of “his intent to formally rescind Sudan’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism”.
The White House called the move a “pivotal turning point” for Khartoum, which is seeking to emerge from decades of isolation.
Speaking at the White House on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it is “completely appropriate” for the US to lift the designation, given recent strides Sudan has made to transition to a civilian-led government.
According to the joint statement, Israel and Sudan plan to first open up economic and trade relations, with an initial focus on agriculture.
A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said issues such as the formal establishment of diplomatic ties would be resolved later.
Pompeo added he expects to see more trade between the US and Sudan, as well.
Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Washington, DC, said while removing Sudan from the list is not high on the list of priorities for most US voters, Trump sees the normalisation agreement as a political win.
“It’s hard to move the needle on a foreign policy question, but it’s certainly something the Trump campaign can herald over the next 11 days as we get closer to November 3,” Fisher reported.