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Are the normalisation terms already agreed by Sudan and Israel?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks with Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of Sudan's sovereign council [AA]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, head of Sudan's sovereign council, 5 February 2020 [Anadolu Agency]

Since Sudan's transitional head of state Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 3 February, an unverified list of demands reflecting agreed points has emerged. This list outlines the conditions that Sudan must fulfil in order to be removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, which would be followed by debt relief, investment and, ultimately, the removal of economic sanctions.

Whilst it has been difficult to verify the authenticity of the reports, some of the conditions have surfaced in the Israeli media. Furthermore, over the past few days, political posturing suggests that Sudan is in the process of delivering on the promises allegedly made to Netanyahu by Al-Burhan.

At the top of the list is the demand for the extradition of ousted President Omar Al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes and genocide in Darfur. After the successful December revolution last year, handing over the former president was a red line that military leaders vowed would never be crossed. However, this week's statement by Al-Burhan confirmed his readiness to discuss the issue with the ICC, which appears to indicate that the red line could be transformed into a green light.

Insiders close to the military suggest that such overtures are part of a strategy to make the right noises for the benefit of the international community. In particular, Sudan is keen to show a willingness to cooperate with the demands of its Gulf neighbours and Israel to ensure the lifting of sanctions, something that will come before the US Congress to make a final decision. However, it is unclear why the handing over of Al-Bashir is so important to Israel and the United States, given that neither country has ratified the ICC Rome Statute and both are extremely critical of its workings.

First Israeli plane flies over Sudan's airspace

Nevertheless, it was the unprecedented public announcement of the intention to send Al-Bashir to The Hague as part of the peace negotiations with the Darfur rebels that sent shockwaves within the army command, and gave hope to the families of victims of the violence in the Sudanese region. The announcement by a civilian member of the Transitional Sovereign Council, Mohammed Hassan Al-Taishi, was made in the presence of a military colleague within the Council, Shams Addeen Kabaashi, who appeared to give his tacit approval. The international news media seized on the news as a breakthrough, ignoring the fact that Sudan's government had actually adopted a position to transfer Al-Bashir some months ago. In any event, the decision would require the consent of the Sovereign Council.

Furthermore, last month Sudan's Attorney General, Tajelsir El-Hibir, conditioned Al-Bashir's transfer to the ICC on the outcome of the ongoing peace talks with the Darfur rebel movements in Juba. Hence, it seems that the country is moving towards a scenario whereby it will face two stark choices: a comprehensive peace agreement in Darfur which would include sending Al-Bashir and others to The Hague; or allowing the continued refusal to dispatch Al-Bashir to derail peace prospects and ultimately deny the country investment opportunities, resulting in increased international pressure and even the possibility of the imposition of more severe economic sanctions.

Holding off the inevitable barrage of criticism, not to mention the threat of extra sanctions, would no doubt be extremely difficult for the military leadership. There is also the added danger that upwards of 35,000 soldiers within the army and security forces might be prepared to mutiny to prevent the "unpalatable" prospect of Al-Bashir's extradition.

Another item on this unofficial list of demands as revealed by Israel's Arabic language TV Channel Makan, was an undertaking from Sudan that it would never again establish diplomatic relations with Iran. The channel also claimed that Sudan would open the South Sudan border; expel terrorists from its territory; open Sudan's airspace to Israeli aircraft; open an Israeli Embassy in Khartoum; and open a Sudanese Embassy in Jerusalem. Sudan also has to change its passports, which prevent the holders from travelling to Israel. Finally, Sudan would have to allow Israel's El Al airline to open an office in Khartoum.

Burhan: Israel to help remove Sudan from US blacklist

In return, Sudan can expect restoration of full diplomatic relations with America and Europe and its name to be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Moreover, its frozen assets will be released; international investment channels will be re-opened and industrial manufacturing projects will be resumed. In addition, there is a promise of protection and full freedom for Sudanese citizens to enter a large number of countries, with or without visas.

According to General Al-Burhan, he did not agree a final plan of action with Netanyahu as the final decision to normalise relations with Israel rests on negotiations conducted by the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers. Nevertheless, the opening of Sudanese airspace and the border with South Sudan has already happened within the past few days. What's more, no official rebuttal of the Israeli media reports have been forthcoming. Many, like former Prime Minister Sadiq Al-Mahdi, fear that the reports and rumours in the media amount to a capitulation of Sudanese sovereignty. He labelled moves to normalise Israel's occupation of Palestine as a "betrayal".

However, supporters of the government point out that Khartoum's hostile position on Israel neither benefited Sudan nor assisted the Palestinian cause. In the face of economic difficulties, Sudan's leadership appears to be willing to introduce policies to bring the nation in line with other Arab nations and 162 out of the 193 member states of the UN who have formally recognised the Zionist state. The fear remains that even after Sudan meets all of Israel's conditions, the flow of investment and funds to assist the country through its economic problems might still not be forthcoming until there is a clear indication of who will be voted into power at the end of the three year transition period.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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