In the Middle East, does the road to Washington lead through Jerusalem?

Sudan wants financial aid and removal from the state terrorism sponsor list and hopes ties with Israel can beget better US treatment.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prior to signing the Abraham Accords, normalizing relations between Israel and some of its Middle East nei (photo credit: REUTERS/TOM BRENNER)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prior to signing the Abraham Accords, normalizing relations between Israel and some of its Middle East nei
(photo credit: REUTERS/TOM BRENNER)
Some eyebrows were raised in Khartoum in the last few weeks as the terms for American aid in the country’s revival after the overthrow of tyrant Omar al-Bashir last year came to light.
Sudan wants to shake off its state sponsor of terrorism designation, which blocks access to foreign funding it needs to keep its new government stable and able to foster democracy, as well as $3 billion in debt relief and investments in its weak economy.
The US would also like Sudan to pay a $335 million settlement for harboring the terrorists who bombed US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the USS Cole destroyer in 2000, while Congress would pass a bill giving Khartoum immunity from future legal claims on other past terrorist attacks – including, controversially, 9/11. That legislation is currently tied up in Congress.
And the Trump administration has brought another demand into the mix: for Sudan to fully normalize ties with Israel.
The symbolism would be great for Khartoum – the site at which the Arab League in 1967 announced that there would be “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it” – to be a place where peace is made. And the Trump administration could point to that move as another domino falling in their transformative moves for the Middle East, touting the president as a peacemaker.
Sudan has somewhat resisted establishing diplomatic ties with Israel. On the one hand, the country’s transitional leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda in February, sparking normalization rumors and allowing Israeli airlines to fly in its airspace within days. On the other, its population is unlikely to welcome the move with open arms, and it could destabilize the burgeoning democracy.
Both Burhan and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok have said they do not have a mandate to normalize relations with Israel, but they are examining the issue, and did not reach a final decision after returning from Abu Dhabi for talks with the US and UAE on the matter.
THE NEW Sudanese government is learning something that many other countries have found in the past – that the road to Washington leads through Jerusalem.
Peace between Israel and the United Arab Emirates was not predicated on an arms deal, something that both countries and the US have repeatedly confirmed despite media insinuations to the contrary. However, multiple UAE officials have said that they think the new normalization would grease the wheels on their long-standing request to purchase F-35 fighter jets, which the US had previously denied because it would weaken Israel’s qualitative military edge. Now, US President Donald Trump himself is enthusiastically touting the possibility that the UAE will buy the warplanes – though such a sale still requires congressional approval.
The recent economic agreements the US negotiated between Serbia and Kosovo, signed at the White House last month, also included a shoehorned-in Israel clause. Both Balkan countries said they would move their embassies to Jerusalem by July – Serbia was already working on a trade office in Israel’s capital at that point – and Israel agreed to recognize Kosovo.
Serbia is also an example of a trend seen in a number of countries that tried to get closer to the US government by working with American Jewish organizations. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced that his country was opening a trade office in Jerusalem to great applause at this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference.
Even before the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain made peace with Israel, leaving the US with a taste for more, friendship with Israel was viewed as a way to get close to the Trump administration.
Guatemala, for example, moved its embassy to Jerusalem a few days after the US did in May 2018, one of several moves on Guatemala’s part marking extra-warm ties between the countries under Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales. On the American side, the Trump administration reversed course on supporting an independent UN-backed anti-corruption commission – its chief prosecutor was nicknamed “the Robert Mueller of Latin America” – in Guatemala.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, another Trump ally, recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2019 and plans to open an embassy there by the end of this year. Israel will reciprocate with an embassy of its own in Tegucigalpa.
Honduras, Guatemala, Serbia and Kosovo also all agreed to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, an Israeli policy objective that the US has adopted. The Central American countries announced the step at a counterterrorism conference in Bogota between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and several countries in the region.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is thought to be one leader who sought – and succeeded – to leverage his good relationship with Netanyahu into a better one with the US, after Trump was elected president in 2016, since former president Barack Obama had kept his distance due to Orban’s illiberal leanings.
Dr. Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, did not recall a specific case of a country asking the ministry to lobby on its behalf in Washington, saying that countries tended to be more careful than that.
But he added that “the Trump administration, to its credit, was seeking all the time to advance core Israeli interests with respect to Jerusalem. I don’t know of any country or government that took a similar approach.”
The embassy move and work to have other countries follow suit “ultimately served American interests, because it shows that when America makes a commitment, it follows through,” Gold added.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus’s comments at last week’s Jerusalem Post Annual Conference explained the American attitude on trying to bring other states closer to Israel.
“Peace for Israel, one of our strongest allies in the world, is important for American national security, because we believe in a strong sovereign State of Israel,” Ortagus said. “Anytime we can bring our friends and allies together, it is positive for the US.” THE FALL of the Iron Curtain brought a flurry of countries establishing ties with Israel – such as Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as Balkan states – to open doors in Washington. That is when the phrase was coined that “the road to Washington leads through Jerusalem,” and the adage remained true over the subsequent 30 years.
Gold recounted that the administration of George H.W. Bush pushed very hard, with “American diplomats operating 24/7,” for the UN General Assembly to rescind the resolution that “Zionism is racism.” Israel had recently adhered to the American request not to get involved in the Gulf War, and the US saw it as a “natural security interest to make sure a reciprocal move would be made,” Gold said.
A Newsweek article on then-US secretary of state James Baker, under president George H.W. Bush, trying to bring together the Madrid Conference on peace between Israel and the Palestinians included a quote that for Syrian president Hafez “Assad, the road to Washington leads through Jerusalem.” The phrase came up again in The Baltimore Sun in 1994, about Israelis seeing then-president Bill Clinton as “the most pro-Israel US president in years.” The article asserted that, after Jordan, more Arab states would seek ties with Israel to improve relations with the only superpower in the post-Soviet world.
Israel’s peace with Jordan in 1994 and Egypt in 1979 carried a hefty price tag for the US, which continues to send those countries billions of dollars in aid in the framework of those treaties.
Even Turkey used this strategy in the heyday of its relations with Israel in the late 1990s. Ankara tried to team up with American Jewish pro-Israel organizations to make up for the fact that Greece and Armenia have stronger political lobbies in Washington.
In 2015, when Obama was still in office, Ali Hasanov, a senior adviser to Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, told The Jerusalem Post that good ties with Israel and Jewish organizations help his country in Washington.
Still, the Trump administration is fairly unique in the level at which it has tied its own diplomatic maneuvers to advancing Israel’s interests.
With the US presidential election coming up, the question naturally arises as to whether this trend will continue if Democratic nominee Joe Biden wins in November.
Beyond Biden’s personal record on Israel, the world is well aware of the strong alliance between Israel and the US, and the decades-long view by many countries that cozying up to Jerusalem will help them in Washington will likely continue regardless of the election result.