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Sudanese group backing normalization with Israel holds first conference

As pressure mounts in Khartoum to normalize with Israel, conference may be attempt to ready public for move; Sudan’s gov’t reportedly meets to discuss ‘peace with Israel’

A member of the Sudanese Popular Initiative for Normalization with Israel speaks at a press conference, on October 18, 2020. (Screenshot: Al-Ghad TV)
A member of the Sudanese Popular Initiative for Normalization with Israel speaks at a press conference, on October 18, 2020. (Screenshot: Al-Ghad TV)

The first conference of the “Popular Initiative for Normalization with Israel” was held Sunday in Khartoum, in another sign that the Sudanese transitional government may be considering advancing ties with Israel.

The US has reportedly been pressuring Sudan to normalize with Israel in exchange for removing Khartoum from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Sudan’s presence on the list subjects it to crippling economic sanctions and limits the impoverished country’s access to international credit.

According to Al-Hadath, a major Arabic-language TV channel based in the United Arab Emirates, Sudan’s ruling Sovereignty Council met on Sunday night to discuss “peace with Israel,” although a similar meeting last Thursday led to no new developments.

A previous attempt to hold a pro-normalization press conference in early October was stopped by authorities, a member of the Sudanese-Israeli Friendship Association told The Times of Israel at the time. That the current conference was allowed to go forward may signal increasing support for open ties with Israel by the country’s military leaders — or even an attempt to prepare their public for the move.

None of the members present at Sunday’s press conference seemed to be well-known public figures, nor did they specify how many members were in their organization.

“Normalization simply means to make our relations with our countries, including Israel, normal… since the 1960s, Sudan has been imprisoned by certain ideological concepts,” said Najm al-Din Adam Abdullah, a member of the fledgling organization.

Sudan has long had strained ties with the Jewish state. In 1967, the Arab states congregated in Khartoum to announce a policy that would come to be known as “The Three Nos”: no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no normalization with Israel.

“We believe that Sudan has remained in the same place since The Three Nos, and has not been able to move forward,” Abdullah said, adding that “such a relationship with Israel has cost us enormously. It put us on the list of state supporters of terror.”

“The Israel taboo… has left Sudan a prisoner of history,” he concluded.

Sudan is currently ruled by a fragile transitional Sovereignty Council run by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who has reportedly been generally supportive of ties with Israel. His civilian counterpart, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, however, has been far more hesitant, telling reporters in September that a “deep discussion of the society” is necessary first.

Al-Burhan is scheduled to hand over control of the Sovereignty Council to Hamdok in 2022. But the normalization question has reportedly driven a deep rift between the two leaders, with al-Burhan increasingly frustrated by Hamdok’s insistence that the transitional government has no mandate to handle the normalization question at this time.

Both al-Burhan and his deputy, Mohammad Hamdan Daglo — known popularly by his nickname Hemedti — enjoy close ties with the United Arab Emirates, which recently signed a normalization agreement with Israel. Al-Burhan even commanded Sudanese brigades for the UAE in Yemen, where the Emirates have joined Saudi Arabia in executing a controversial military campaign.

“Israel is developed. The entire world works with Israel. For development, for agriculture — we need Israel,” Daglo told Sudan24 TV in Juba, in early October.

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