Sudan’s leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said Tuesday his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the previous day in Uganda was driven by his responsibility to protect the country’s national security.
“I took this step from the standpoint of my responsibility… to protect the national security of Sudan and achieve the supreme interests of the Sudanese people,” Burhan said in a statement after briefing Sudan’s ruling body about his meeting.
The surprise meeting stirred controversy in Sudan, with the government saying it wasn’t notified ahead of time and critics lambasting the talks on social media.
Others said Monday’s meeting would improve Sudan’s standing with the United States and help Khartoum shed its pariah image.
For Israel, it was a major diplomatic breakthrough with a Muslim-majority African state, two days after the Arab League rejected US President Donald Trump’s proposal of Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Burhan heads Sudan’s transitional administration. His meeting with Netanyahu was kept secret but grabbed headlines late Monday when the Israeli leader announced the two had begun talks on normalizing relations between their countries.
A report by the official Sudan News Agency quoted Burhan affirming Sudan’s commitment to the Palestinian cause and “emphasizing Sudan’s principled position on the Palestinian issue and the right of the Palestinian people to establish their independent state.”
Quoting Burhan, the agency said that position “has remained, and will continue to be, in accordance with the Arab consensus and the decisions of the Arab League.”
Sudan is desperate to lift sanctions linked to its listing by the US as a state sponsor of terror. That would be a key step toward ending its isolation and rebuilding the economy after the popular uprising last year that toppled autocrat Omar al-Bashir and installed the joint civilian-military sovereign council, headed by Burhan.
But Khartoum is also a longtime member of the Arab League and joined other members in rejecting Trump’s plan at a meeting in Cairo on Saturday. The US plan, which is seen by both sides as heavily favoring Israel, would grant the Palestinians a demilitarized state on some 70 percent of the West Bank, while allowing Israel to annex all its settlements there and most of East Jerusalem.
H.A. Hellyer, a senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said Sudan runs the risk of damaging relationships with the wider Arab world, as well as with the opposition at home if it appears to be moving toward normalization with what he described as an extreme Israeli government.
“It’s a cynical choice,” Hellyer said.
On social media, some Sudanese denounced the Sudan-Israel meeting, accusing Burhan of trying to get on the Trump administration’s good side through Israel. Others applauded, arguing it was good for Sudan’s future.
Prominent activist Amjed Farid said Burhan had no mandate from the people of Sudan to offer Netanyahu anything.
The pro-democracy movement, known as the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, released a statement following meetings with Burhan and the Cabinet.
The FDFC said it was not aware or consulted on the meeting between Burhan and Netanyahu beforehand, and that a change in Sudan’s position on Israel is the Sudanese people’s decision.
The movement said it stands by the Palestinians’ “right of return” and to have their independent state.
Former Sudanese Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, leader of the Umma political party, condemned the meeting, saying it “does not achieve Sudan’s national interest, nor does it achieve an Arab interest for us or a Palestinian interest.”
He accused Netanyahu of “racism” for calling Israel a Jewish state, and said his policies do not support a “just and comprehensive” peace in the Middle East.
“We do not know the details [of the meeting],” he said. “But, on principle, to deal with the current Israeli prime minister is [crossing] a red line,” he said.
The Sudanese Communist Party, which is part of the pro-democracy movement, also denounced the meeting, as “treason” against the Palestinians.