Sudan-Israel deal depends on legislative approval, minister says

Jason Burke and Zeinab Mohammed Salih
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP</span>
Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

A groundbreaking deal between Israel and Sudan trumpeted as a diplomatic triumph by Donald Trump on Friday will only go ahead if it is approved by Sudan’s legislative council, which currently does not exist, senior officials in Khartoum have said.

The statements suggest the prospects of the agreement leading to concrete results in the near future are slim. If implemented, it would make Sudan the third Arab country to set aside hostilities with Israel in the past two months.

“Agreement on normalisation with Israel will be decided after completion of the constitutional institutions through the formation of the legislative council,” Omar Gamareldin, Sudan’s acting foreign minister, said on Friday on state TV.

The statement may go some way to defuse domestic opposition to the move in Sudan.

There were scattered protests in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. Demonstrators burned the Israeli flag, chanting “go to hell” and “no to normalisation with Israel”.

Some of the leaders of the Forces of Freedom and Change, the main organisers of the protest movement that led to the fall last year of veteran ruler Omar al-Bashir, rejected the decision.

Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, a former prime minister and the head of Umma party, said his faction would seek to block the deal through legal action.

The transitional government in Sudan remains fragile. Last week, hundreds of thousand of people took to the streets across the country demanding reform and protesting against deteriorating economic conditions.

Mohammed Babikir, a pro-democracy activist in Khartoum, said he opposed the deal with Israel, which he called “humiliating for the soul of the [Sudanese] revolution [which is] is the fight against injustice”.

Yasir Faiz, a political analyst in Khartoum, said the decision to move towards a normalisation of ties with Israel “needs to have a popular mandate from the people of Sudan”.

“This decision violates democracy itself, [because] nobody knows in Sudan what they actually have actually agreed to,” Faiz said.

Trump sealed the agreement between Sudan and Israel in a phone call on Friday with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, his Sudanese counterpart, Abdalla Hamdok, and Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the chairman of Sudan’s transitional sovereign council.

“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 by the three countries said.

But Sudan remains without a parliament and elections are only due in 2022. A legislative council is due to be set up before the polls, but its creation is already overdue and may not happen at all.

In August both Hamdok and Burhan warned Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, that Sudan’s sovereign council and cabinet were unable to take such a decision alone.

“The issue remains very controversial in Sudan as events of the past few days have shown. The burning of Israeli flags in Khartoum and statements from influential political leaders suggest that proceeding with normalisation with Israel would put the government in a tight spot”, said Jean-Baptiste Gallopin, an independent researcher on Sudan.

“Hamdok has signalled he doesn’t believe that the transitional authorities have a mandate to carry out normalisation with Israel without a broader consultation of Sudanese political forces,” Gallopin said.

Observers suggest there is deep division between the military and civilian leaders of Sudan’s transitional government over how fast and how far to go in establishing ties with Israel. The civilians appear to be more fearful of domestic public opinion, with senior soldiers more enthusiastic about winning US support.

A sticking point in the negotiations was Sudan’s insistence that a deal with Israel should not be linked to Khartoum’s delisting from a US list of states that sponsor terrorism.

Sudan was added to the list in 1993, when under the authoritarian rule of Bashir, and has made it difficult for the transitional government in Khartoum to access urgently needed debt relief and foreign financing.

Sudan, saddled by $60bn (£46bn) in external debt, urgently needs financial help to reorganise its economy. Inflation hit 167% in August and the currency has tumbled as the government prints money to subsidise bread, fuel and electricity.

The US had demanded that Sudan pay $335m, which would be distributed to victims of the al-Qaida bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. A US court decided that Khartoum played a key role in the attacks, which were organised by Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan.

Sudan agreed to the terms earlier this month and Trump has said he will order the delisting, but Congress needs to approve the move.