Israel says peace deal with Sudan to be signed by year’s end

Returning from Khartoum, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen says his visit laid ‘the foundations for a historic peace agreement with a strategic Arab and Muslim country’

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (left) meets with Sudanese ruler Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Khartoum on February 2, 2023. (Shlomi Amsallem)
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (left) meets with Sudanese ruler Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Khartoum on February 2, 2023. (Shlomi Amsallem)

Israel and Sudan committed on Thursday to completing a normalization agreement in the near future following what Foreign Minister Eli Cohen described as his “historic diplomatic visit” to the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

Cohen said upon landing back in Israel that the plan was for a full agreement to be signed by the end of the year — though only once Sudan’s current military leadership has transferred power to a civilian government, a process that is still unfolding.

“Today’s visit to Sudan lays the foundations for a historic peace agreement with a strategic Arab and Muslim country,” Cohen said after he landed at Ben Gurion Airport.

“The peace agreement between Israel and Sudan will promote regional stability and contribute to the national security of the State of Israel,” he continued.

A statement released by the Sudanese Foreign Ministry after a meeting between Cohen and his Sudanese counterpart Ali al-Sadiq said that “It has been agreed to move forward towards the normalization of relations between the two countries.”

Israel was once in a state of war with Sudan, after the African nation sent troops to fight against the nascent Jewish state in the War of Independence in 1948, but in January 2021, the two countries agreed to normalize relations as part of an agreement with the US that removed Sudan from its list of “state sponsors of terrorism.”

Cohen, then the intelligence minister, led the first official Israeli delegation to Sudan that month but ties were never formalized despite that agreement due to internal political instability in Sudan.

Then-Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen (L) meets with Sudanese Defense Minister Yassin Ibrahim in Khartoum on January 25, 2021. (Courtesy)

“Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, is remembered in Israel as the city where the Arab countries decided on the historic ‘Three Nos’: No peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, and no recognition of Israel,” recalled Cohen.

“We are building a new reality with the Sudanese, in which the ‘Three Nos’ will become the ‘Three Yeses’: Yes to negotiations between Israel and Sudan, yes to recognition of Israel and yes to peace between the states and between the peoples.”

Thursday’s talks touched briefly on “achieving stability and peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” the Sudanese statement said, but did not elaborate further.

During the visit, Cohen met with Sudan’s President of the Transitional Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fatah Al Burhan and other senior officials, and discussed the necessary steps required to sign a final agreement between Israel and Sudan in the near future.

In accordance with the plan, the signing ceremony of the peace agreement “will take place in a few months’ time in Washington after the establishment of a civilian government… as part of the ongoing transition process in the country,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement to the press following Cohen’s visit.

In his remarks to the press, Cohen said the agreement would also help Israel establish diplomatic relations with other African nations, and bolster the Jewish state’s existing ties with other countries on the continent.

During discussions between the two delegations, Cohen said Israel wished to assist Sudan’s development “for the benefit of the Sudanese people” in a variety of fields including food security, water resources management, and agriculture.

And Cohen also presented an aid program for Sudan to Sudanese military leaders that will “focus on projects and capacity building in the fields of humanitarian aid, water purification and public medicine.”

Sudan, an Arab League member, had for decades maintained a rigid anti-Israel stance under longtime autocratic president Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted in April 2019 following mass protests against his rule.

Khartoum was removed from the US blacklist in December 2020 after 27 years of crippling sanctions which strangled Sudan’s economy under Bashir.

In January 2021, Sudan signed a declaration paving the way to normalizing ties with Israel, and in April that year, it approved a bill abolishing a 1958 boycott of the country.

Relations were stymied, however, as political turmoil in Sudan deepened following an October 2021 military coup led by Burhan, derailing the post-Bashir transition to civilian rule.

Sudan’s agreement to normalize relations with Israel upended a longstanding policy after the 1967 Six Day War that saw Israel conquer swathes of territory, including the West Bank from Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria.

Arab leaders gathered in Khartoum after the defeat, and signed a resolution that became known as the “three nos.”

Egypt and Jordan would later recognize Israel through peace treaties signed in 1979 and 1994 respectively, followed decades later by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco as part of the Abraham Accords.

Burhan has defended the normalization with Israel, saying in a December 2021 interview that it was “essential for Sudan to return to the international community.”

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