Sudan says its transition government lacks mandate to normalize Israel ties

Contradicting Netanyahu, cabinet downplays meeting with leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Uganda, says he did not talk of normalizing ties with Jewish state

Sudanese Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan waves to his supporters at a military-backed rally in Omdurman district west of Khartoum, Sudan, June 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Sudanese Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan waves to his supporters at a military-backed rally in Omdurman district west of Khartoum, Sudan, June 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Sudan’s cabinet said Thursday that the country’s leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan had made no promise to Israel’s prime minister of “normalizing ties” between the two countries.

Burhan, who heads Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for previously unannounced talks in Entebbe on Monday that appeared to signal an end to Sudan’s longstanding boycott of the Jewish state.

Soon after their meeting, Netanyahu announced that the two leaders had agreed to cooperate toward normalizing ties.

Sudan’s transitional cabinet, which earlier complained that it was not informed about the meeting ahead of time, said Thursday that meeting Netanyahu was Burhan’s “personal initiative” and he had made no promises to the Israeli premier.

“The chief of the sovereign council told us … he did not give any commitment and did not talk of normalizing relations,” government spokesman Faisal Mohamed Salih told reporters early Thursday.

“He did not give a promise of normalizing or having diplomatic relations.”

Salih said the issue of relations with Israel was something the current transitional government was not mandated to decide.

“This government has a very limited mandate. The issue of relations with Israel is beyond its mandate,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) is welcomed by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at the State House in Entebbe, Uganda, February 3, 2020. (Sumy Sadurni/AFP)

On Wednesday Burhan himself made it clear that he did not agree to normalize ties with Israel when he met Netanyahu, but only to end hostilities.

“We did not discuss normalization, but rather [establishing] a relationship of goodwill with the entire world,” Burhan said during a meeting with leaders of public opinion, reported by pan-Arab TV stations.

“What happened in the meeting was merely a consensus between the two sides to halt all mutually hostile actions and positions. The meeting did not deal with the details regarding the form of relations or what is specifically required to [establish relations]. That is the job of the [transitional] ruling council,” the SUNA state-run news agency quoted him as having said.

Burhan added that Sudan’s cabinet and transitional ruling council will set up a joint committee to weigh the potential benefits and drawbacks of ties with Israel, according to Al Jazeera.

The Sudanese leader also said his government will allow flights to and from the Jewish state — except for those belonging to the Israeli El Al airline — to use Khartoum’s airspace, according to Al Jazeera.

Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israel had received permission to fly over Sudan and that only an unspecified technical matter remained before finalizing the agreement.

Israel remains technically at war with Sudan, which supported hardline Islamists — including, for a period, al-Qaeda — during the rule of ousted leader Omar al-Bashir.

The spokesman for Sudan’s armed forces, Brig. Amer Mohammed al-Hassan, said Wednesday in a news conference that Burhan’s meeting with Netanyahu in Uganda was part of efforts to end Sudan’s longtime status as a state supporter of terror.

The goal of the talks, he said, was to help secure Sudan’s removal from the United States’ list of states that sponsor terror. The designation dates back to the 1990s, when Sudan briefly hosted Osama bin Laden and other wanted terrorists. The US and Israel are staunch allies, known to have grown particularly close in the Trump era.

Sudan was also believed to have served as a pipeline for Iran to supply weapons to Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip. Israel was thought to have been behind airstrikes in Sudan that destroyed a convoy in 2009 and a weapons factory in 2012.

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters, September 27, 2019. (Kevin Hagen/AP)

The transitional government headed by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was formed months after the ouster of longtime despot al-Bashir amid nationwide protests in April last year.

Burhan heads the ruling sovereign council, a joint civilian and military body tasked with overseeing the country’s transition to civilian rule.

Sudanese military top brass have backed Burhan’s initative in holding the meeting with Netanyhau, saying it will help boost national security. The cabinet says it was not informed of the meeting in advance.

After their meeting, Netanyahu’s office said the Israeli premier believed that post-Bashir Sudan was headed “in a positive direction.”

It said he and Burhan had “agreed to start cooperation leading to normalization of the relationship between the two countries.”

Monday’s meeting came just a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo invited Burhan to visit the United States in a phone call. The date of the visit has not yet been set.

Sudan, a Muslim-majority African country, has long been part of a decades-old Arab boycott of Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians and its control of land the Palestinians want for a state. The government has faced criticism from civil society leaders for the sudden warming in relations with Israel.

The Palestine Liberation Organization called Burhan and Netanyahu’s meeting “a stab in the back of the Palestinian people.”

In the wake of the Six Day War of 1967 in which Israel took control of the West Bank from Jordan and seized the Golan Heights from Syria, Arab leaders held a historic meeting in Khartoum to announce what became known as the “three nos” — no peace, no recognition, no negotiations with Israel.

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