Can Israel’s symbolic victory turn Khartoum's famous ‘no’s’ into a ‘yes’?

The UAE is only the third Arab country to sign a deal with Israel; Sudan would be the fourth. It’s likely that Bahrain and Oman will follow in their path.

Sudanese civilians wave their national flags during the signing of the Sudan's power sharing deal, Khartoum (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMED NURELDIN ABDALLAH)
Sudanese civilians wave their national flags during the signing of the Sudan's power sharing deal, Khartoum
It would be premature to pop champagne bottles over a Sudan-Israel peace deal.
Indeed, initial optimism that an agreement was in the works was dimmed somewhat late Tuesday night when Sudan’s Foreign Ministry distanced itself from statements its own spokesman Haidar Badawi al-Sadiq had made about efforts to achieve peace that were under way between his country and Israel.
“Relations with Israel was not discussed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in any way, and Ambassador [Sadiq] was not assigned to make any statements in this regard,” the Foreign Ministry stated.
The seismic geopolitical shift under way with regard to Israel’s role in the Middle East made Sadiq’s comments to Sky News Arabia plausible to the Israeli ear.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s predictions that Israel would make peace deals with Arab states appeared to be coming to fruition already last Thursday with the announcement of a pending US-brokered agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
At issue is more than just the sudden possibility that Israel could have formalized diplomatic ties with more than just two steadfast regional countries – Egypt, with which it signed an agreement in 1979; and Jordan, with which a peace deal was reached in 1994.
The UAE would be only the third Arab country to sign a deal with Israel, and Sudan would be the fourth. It’s likely that Bahrain and Oman will follow in their path.
In the last week, storied concepts of peacemaking under which both the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Israeli-Arab conflict have operated have crumbled like the walls of Jericho.
They came down at such a fast pace that it has been almost impossible to comprehend the extent to which Israel, the Palestinians and the larger Arab world have entered into a new paradigm.
It has been publicly clear for the last few years that changes were under way between Israel and Sudan. Since 2016, Sudan’s foreign ministers have spoken of wanting ties with Israel. In February, Netanyahu met with the chairman of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council, Lt.-Gen. Abdel Fatah Abdeirahman al-Burhan, to discuss normalizing relations between the two countries.
The meeting itself was significant, but Sadiq’s overtures of peace to Israel on Tuesday, coming in the aftermath of the UAE deal, made the possibility seem much more real.
For Israel, a country whose people were the victim of a Nazi genocide, an Israeli-Sudanese peace agreement would be an emotionally fraught affair, given that it would be made with a country that perpetrated its own genocide in the Darfur region of the country.
STILL, A peace deal with Sudan has symbolic significance above and beyond its impact on the ties between the two countries or the larger regional coalition against Iran that is being formed.
For the last 53 years, Sudan’s capital of Khartoum has been linked with both the Palestinian and Arab world’s obstinate rejection of the Jewish state. It was there, in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War, that the Arab League met to denounce Israel. It issued what has become known as the three noes of Khartoum. These were: no to recognition of Israel, no to negotiations with Israel and no to peace with Israel.
The tide of obstinacy has weakened over the years, particularly with Egypt and Jordan making peace with Israel, and the Palestinians agreeing to negotiate.
The tide of Arab sentiment turned more significantly toward Israel in 2002 with the Arab Peace Initiative. It offered normalized ties between 57 Arab and Muslim states and Israel if it withdrew to the pre-1967 lines and accepted a two-state solution with the Palestinians based on those borders. That offer was integrated into the peace process and widely referenced in almost every international document and United Nations resolution.
The hope had been to entice Israel to accept a two-state solution at the pre-1967 lines. Netanyahu and the Trump administration have argued that, instead, the initiative held peace with the Arab world hostage to the Palestinian peace process, a move that helped neither cause.
Netanyahu has long explained that Arab peace must precede Palestinian peace – and so far, that has proven to be correct.
Now, within the space of a week, the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative could be on the verge of collapsing, and the last walls of Khartoum might now also be crumbling.
Once peace deals are forged between Israel and regional Arab neighbors prior to the conclusion of a two-state solution with the Palestinians, an Arab peace initiative that speaks about Palestinian peace first and Arab peace second becomes virtually irrelevant.
Sudan is only one country out of the 57 that were part of the Arab Peace Initiative, but one with important symbolic significance due to what happened at Khartoum.
A peace deal with Israel would erase the symbolism of Khartoum, turning Sudan from a country once known for its wall of obstinacy against Israel to one through which the gateways to the Arab world would now be open.
Nothing is certain, of course, until the ink is dried on any of these deals. The announcements of the last week could all be false flares. Sudan’s backpedaling of its peace message is evidence of just how fragile the situation is.
The Sudanese Foreign Ministry’s decision to fire its spokesman for talking about peace with Israel underscores how long and difficult the road to normalized ties might really be.
But still, the stage certainly appears to be increasingly set for a new era of Israeli relations with the Arab world.