Sudan’s new FM open to relations with Israel, if Palestinian conflict resolved

Asma Abdullah, first woman in her country’s history to be top diplomat, says ‘now is not the time,’ but adds that most Arab states maintain some ties with Jewish state

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Newly appointed Sudanese Foreign Minister Asma Abdullah speaking to Al Jazeera on September 8, 2019. (Screenshot: Al Jazeera)
Newly appointed Sudanese Foreign Minister Asma Abdullah speaking to Al Jazeera on September 8, 2019. (Screenshot: Al Jazeera)

Newly appointed Sudanese Foreign Minister Asma Abdullah suggested on Sunday that Khartoum would be interested in establishing relations with Israel if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved, and said that most Arab states maintain some degree of ties with Israel.

Sudan on Sunday swore in its first cabinet, including Abdullah, since the ouster of autocratic president Omar al-Bashir in April following mass pro-democracy protests.

Asked by the Qatari satellite broadcaster Al Jazeera in a televised interview whether Sudan and Israel would establish ties, Abdullah, the first female Sudanese foreign minister, said: “Now is not the time.”

Pressed by the interviewer whether she was saying Sudan does not in principle have a problem with establishing ties with Israel and could make such a move in the future, she stuttered: “Of course, in principle… I mean, if you look at the Arab states…Most of them have relations in one way or another. Sudan is one of the Arab states, but now is not the time.”

The interviewer then told her that her statement “appears to be dangerous,” noting that some states oppose ties with Israel because the Palestinians have not achieved their “interests and rights.”

Abdullah responded: “Because of that, I am telling you now is not the time for people to talk about normalizing relations with Israel. There are still unresolved issues. Until these unresolved issues are resolved, I don’t think it is possible to open that door.”

Members of the Sudanese cabinet pose for a photograph, with new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok (5th from left), after taking oath at the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum, on September 8, 2019. (Ebrahim Hamid/AFP)

Jordan and Egypt are the sole Arab countries to maintain formal diplomatic ties with Israel. In recent years, however, some Arab countries, including several in the Gulf, have publicly expressed and demonstrated greater openness to the Jewish state and hosted its officials for visits in their cities.

Oman, for example, welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018 to Muscat, where he met with Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

Abdullah’s comments come a few days after newly appointed Sudanese Religious Affairs Minister Nasr al-Din Mufrah called on Jews to return to Sudan.

“Sudan is pluralistic in terms of its ideas, values, culture, ideologies, Islamic schools of thought and even in its religions. There is Islam, Christianity and there was a minority of Jews,” he said in an interview with the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya channel on Friday. “It is possible that they have left the country, but we call on them from here to take up their right to become citizens and we urge them to come back to this country.”

There was a Jewish community in Sudan in a large part of the 20th century, reaching its height of one thousand people in the 1930s and early 1940s, Elli Fischer, a commentator on Jewish and Israeli affairs, wrote in an article in Mosaic Magazine in 2016.

Jews began to leave Sudan after the African country gained its independence in 1956 from the joint British-Egyptian government, Fischer stated in the article, adding that the Jewish community’s “dissolution was all but complete by the end of the 1960s.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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