Washington: Israel and Sudan agreed to take steps to normalise relations in a deal brokered with the help of the United States, making Khartoum the third Arab government to set aside hostilities with Israel in the last two months.
US President Donald Trump, seeking re-election on Nov 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.
Trump’s decision this week to remove Sudan from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism paved the way for the accord with Israel, marking a foreign policy achievement for the Republican president as he seeks a second term trailing in opinion polls behind Democratic rival Joe Biden.
Netanyahu hailed it as a “new era” for the region, but the Palestinian leadership, watching as more of their Arab brethren appear to give their quest for statehood a lower priority, called it a “new stab in the back.”
“The leaders agreed to the normalisation 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 that also promised US help for Khartoum to secure international debt relief.
Israel and Sudan plan to begin by opening economic and trade links, with an initial focus on agriculture, the joint statement said. A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said such issues as formal establishment of diplomatic ties would be resolved later.
Trump touted the deal to reporters in the Oval Office with the Israeli and Sudanese leaders on the line in a three-way phone call, saying at least five other countries wanted to follow suit and normalise relations with Israel.
“Do you think ‘Sleepy Joe’ could have made this deal?” Trump asked Netanyahu, using the president’s pejorative nickname for Biden a day after their final, rancorous debate of the 2020 presidential campaign. “Somehow I don’t think so.”
Netanyahu, reliant on bipartisan support for Israel in Washington, responded haltingly: “"Well, Mr President, one thing I can tell you, is, um, uh, we appreciate the help for peace from anyone in America.”
Trump’s aides view his pro-Israel policies as appealing to Christian evangelical voters, who are among his biggest supporters.
In recent weeks the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain became the first Arab states in a quarter of a century to agree to formal links with Israel, forged largely through shared fears of Iran.
Trump insisted the Palestinians also “are wanting to do something” but offered no proof. Palestinian leaders have condemned recent Arab overtures to Israel as a betrayal of their nationalist cause and have refused to engage with the Trump administration, seeing it as biased in favor of Israel.
“No one has the right to speak in the name of the Palestinian people and in the name of the Palestinian cause,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement.
Trump announced on Monday he would take Sudan off the terrorism list once it had deposited US$335 million it had pledged to pay in compensation.
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.
The White House called Trump’s intention to remove Sudan from the terrorism list a “pivotal turning point” for Khartoum, which is seeking to emerge from decades of isolation.
The military and civilian leaders of Sudan’s transitional government have been divided over how fast and how far to go in establishing ties with Israel.