WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump announced Friday that Sudan will start to normalize ties with Israel, making it the third Arab state to do so as part of U.S.-brokered deals in the run-up to Election Day.
The announcement came after the North African nation agreed to put $335 million in an escrow account to be used to compensate American victims of terror attacks. The attacks include the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by the al-Qaida network while its leader, Osama bin Laden, was living in Sudan. In exchange, Trump notified Congress on Friday of his intent to remove Sudan from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
It was foreign policy achievement for Trump just 11 days before Election Day. Previously, the Trump administration engineered diplomatic pacts between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – the first since Jordan recognized Israel in the 1990s and Egypt in the 1970s. Trump said at least five other countries want to come into the deal, which is collectively called the Abraham Accords.
The new recognitions of Israel unify Arab nations around their common enemy, Iran. They also upend the traditional Arab strategy of refusing to normalize relations with Israel before an independent Palestinian state is created.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned and rejected the agreement, saying a lasting peace in the region depends on ending the Israeli occupation and creating a Palestinian state. But Israel said the recognitions signal that the Palestinians have lost their “veto” over regional peace efforts.
In a statement released in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said Israeli and Sudanese teams will meet soon to discuss cooperation in agriculture, trade and other areas. Sudan also is opening its skies to Israeli flights, which will shorten trips to Africa and South America, he said.
The removal of the terror designation opens the door for Sudan's fragile transitional government to get international loans and aid needed to revive its battered economy and rescue the country's transition to democracy. A popular uprising last year led the military to overthrow the longtime autocrat, Omar al-Bashir. Thousands have protested in the country's capital Khartoum and other regions in recent days over dire economic conditions.
Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok thanked Trump for signing the executive order to remove Sudan from the terrorism list and said in a statement that he hoped to complete the deal in a “timely manner.” A senior U.S. official said Sudan had borrowed the money needed to set up the escrow account for terror victims.
Unmentioned in the joint statement was that Sudan has agreed, according to the senior U.S. official, to designate Lebanon's Hezbollah movement as a terrorist organization, something Israel has long sought from its neighbors and others.
Not everyone in Sudan appears happy with recognizing Israel. Some Islamist politicians, sidelined after the ouster of autocrat Omar al-Bashir, said they expect to receive renewed public support.