If recent news reports are to be believed, Sudan may be on the verge of joining the list of Arab countries to normalize their relations with Israel, pushed by the Trump administration. Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, the Sudanese military chief who jointly leads the transitional government in Khartoum, met with both U.S. and Emirati officials in Abu Dhabi earlier this week to discuss an agreement that would remove Sudan from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, in exchange for Sudan normalizing its ties with Israel. The New York Times reported Thursday that the State Department is preparing to delist Sudan “in the next few weeks.”
Unfortunately, as with so many diplomatic bargains, the White House campaign to get Sudan to recognize Israel could entail a complex dance with Congress and possibly unsavory trade-offs that future Sudanese and other African leaders, and maybe even American and Israeli ones, may come to regret later.
In theory, the purported deal would end more than 50 years of enmity between one of the Arab world’s most virulent opponents of Israel, while reportedly infusing up to $3 billion in much-needed U.S. humanitarian and economic aid to Sudan. It would also reassure nervous financial institutions and potential foreign investors that it is safe to do business with Khartoum again, following last year’s ouster of Sudanese strongman Omar al-Bashir. These steps are overdue, and as some very credible analysts have suggested, they are critical to ending Sudan’s long isolation, reducing its military’s iron grip on power and reenergizing the civilian-led push for democracy there.