February 13, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8555

Sudanese Politician In Saudi 'Al-Sharq Al-Awsat' Daily: Sudanese People Support Normalization With Israel; Arabs’ Policy Of Refusal Has Only Hurt Them

February 13, 2020
Saudi Arabia, Sudan | Special Dispatch No. 8555


In a February 9, 2020 interview with the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Mubarak Al-Fadil Al-Mahdi, former deputy prime minister of Sudan and currently the head of the Umma Reform and Renewal Party, expressed support for the recent meeting between Sudanese leader ‘Abd Al-Fattah Al-Burhan and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and for the normalization of relations between the two countries. Responding to those who condemned the meeting, Al-Mahdi stated that the Palestinians themselves have normalized relations with Israel and have maintained economic ties with it since the signing of the Oslo Accords, as do many other Arab countries, chief of them Egypt.

Al-Mahdi added that the Arabs’ years-long policy of refusal, as part of which they have rejected every proposal for resolving the Palestinian issue, is unrealistic and has harmed them, and that the talk of a continued boycott of Israel has become meaningless in the current reality and considering the existing balance of power. Urging the Arabs to learn from the mistakes of the past and advance towards normalization with Israel, he stressed that the Sudanese, with the exception of some extremists, are in favor of this option, especially since Sudan is in desperate need for Israeli technology. Moreover, friendship with Israel could help Sudan clear its name as a former state-sponsor of terror and may lead to the lifting of the U.S. sanctions on it, he said.

It should be noted that Al-Mahdi expressed similar positions when he served as minister of investments and deputy prime minister, which drew fire from the Sudanese political and religious establishment. [1] 

It should also be noted that, according to recent reports, Israel, the U.S., Egypt and Saudi Arabia are discussing the possibility of holding a summit in Cairo, attended by Israeli PM Netanyahu and several Arab leaders, including Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, Egyptian President ‘Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi, and the leaders of the UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Sudan. If there is any truth to these reports, the meeting between Netanyahu and Al-Burhan may have been a trial balloon ahead of this summit. The interview with Al-Mahdi in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, as well as another article recently published in the daily – an opinion piece  by senior columnist ‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed explaining Sudan’s reasons for drawing closer to Israel[2] – may likewise be a Saudi attempt to promote the idea of normalization with Israel among the Arab public.  

The interview with Al-Mahdi in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat

The following are translated excerpts from Al-Mahdi’s February 9, 2020 interview in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. [3]

The Palestinians Themselves, As Well As Many Arab Countries, Have Normalized Relations With Israel

“The leading topic of debate in Sudan these days is ‘normalization with Israel.’ Ever since ‘Abd Al-Fattah Al-Burhan, chairman of [Sudan’s] sovereign council, detonated the ‘normalization bomb’ on February 3, 2020, the Sudanese street has been divided between supporters and opponents of this move, although it appears that the supporters of the move are the obvious majority. One of these supporters is Mubarak Al-Mahdi, former [Sudanese] deputy prime minister, who described the opposition to this step as ‘unobjective,’ claiming that the Palestinians have themselves ‘normalized’ their relations with the Israelis since the Oslo Accords, and that Sudan needs what he called a ‘certificate of innocence’ clearing it of the terrorism charges [against it], which Israel can grant it on a silver platter... According to him, the [Palestinians’] signing of the Oslo Accords ‘means the acceptance of Israel and coexistence with the Israelis in a single state that includes the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. They received autonomy and held elections for the presidency and the municipalities... The Palestinians maintain [economic] relations with Israel in matters of electricity and customs, and Palestinians work in Israel. In other words, full normalization [already] exists, and all that is left is for them is [to finalize] the official status of the state...”

“According to Al-Mahdi, normalization began with the Camp David Accords [between Israel and Egypt], which he called ‘the end of the military solution [option],’ because Egypt realized that it didn’t have the necessary resources to enter a ceaseless struggle and arms race. He added: ‘After Egypt regained its honor in the 1973 war, it regained its lands by signing the Camp David [Accords], normalized relations [with Israel] and raised the Israeli flag in Cairo. After that, many Arab countries followed – Jordan, Oman, Qatar – and [Israeli] representations began appearing [in those countries].

“Al-Mahdi, who for years has been publicly calling for normalization with Israel, said that normalization has not occurred with the Arab public because [this public] is still subject to media propaganda which operates in the old way, and which has not been updated to match the change in reality. He added, ‘And then along came the Oslo Accords, which reinforced the recognition that whoever lacks the necessary strength cannot perpetuate the conflict, and everyone understood that the solution required now is political, attained by means of dialogue...’”   

The Boycott Against Israel Is Meaningless; The Arab Policy Of Refusal Has Yielded Negative Results

“As for the discourse regarding continuing the boycott of Israel, Al-Mahdi said that ‘it has become meaningless,’ because the world and the balances of power are changing, and today there are 13 Arab members in the [Israeli] Knesset, and the conflict has become a political, cultural, and educational [one, waged] by peaceful means, not a conflict of confrontation and boycotts. He blamed the erosion of the Arabs’ achievements on the ‘Arab policy of refusal,’ saying: ‘The Arab policy of refusal has yielded the opposite results [of what was intended. The Arabs] rejected the partition [plan] of 1948; then they rejected the 1967 borders, and now they are demanding a [Palestinian] state even smaller in size... The emotional policy of refusal ignored the balance of power and the global and regional situation, and did not consider what was possible and what was not.’ He called to learn from past experience and to rely on it in contending with the reality, which is leading toward a policy of normalization and confidence-building...”

Sudan Paid A Heavy Price For The Policy Of Refusal; Normalization With Israel Will Clear Its Name and Boost Its Economy

“Al-Mahdi believes that normalization of relations with Israel and a renewal of confidence-building [with it] have created substantial economic interests for Israel in the Arab world, [because the latter] is an enormous market that the Israeli advanced technology sector needs. He said: ‘Sudan and the Arab world need the advanced Israeli technology. When Israel discovers the interests it has in the Arab [world], its motivation to make further concessions to the Palestinians will increase, [and] they will become part of the country [i.e. Israel]. It will also handle the refugee problem and the “Jerusalem problem,” which is not a Palestinian issue so much as an Islamic issue, which in the past was under Jordanian management.’ With respect to normalization between Sudan and Israel, Al-Mahdi said that the Sudanese economy in general, and specifically the agricultural sector, is severely underdeveloped... and that Sudan needs energy, infrastructures and agricultural technology. He mentioned that ‘in most of the lands there is no water, no electricity and no roads, and therefore we desperately need Israeli technology.’

“Al-Mahdi clarified that Sudan has not yet achieved full national unity due to the regime of Omar Al-Bashir and the Muslim Brotherhood, which brought Sudan back into ‘the [era] of tribalism and sectarian groups’… He believes that ‘this regime’s alliance with Iran, its support of the terrorist organizations and of the Palestinian armed struggle, its opposition to the Oslo Accords, and its involvement, along with Hamas, the [Palestinian Islamic] jihad and various [other] organizations, in the smuggling of weapons from Iran and Syria to Palestine – all these incensed the Christian and Jewish lobbies [in the U.S.] against Al-Bashir’s regime, and [also] led Israel to make three air strikes on Sudan, which was in a state of conflict with Israel... [Sudan] was hit with various sanctions because it chose the path of confrontation...’ He added, ‘We paid a heavy price for our rejectionist positions, which were mostly emotional positions, and we did not take our interests into account.’ Al-Mahdi noted that normalization between Sudan and Israel was in its early stages, and that it could provide Sudan with a ‘certificate of innocence’ [clearing it] of terrorism [charges], adding, ‘Israel is an important country for the issuing of such a certificate, because we acted against it alongside Iran and perpetrated substantial operations that threatened its security, [including] arms smuggling, the training [of terrorists] and significant collaboration with Iran, Syria, and other players.”

“Al-Mahdi clarified that the Jewish lobby [in the U.S.] was the most significant factor operating against Sudan, and that operating together with it was the Christian lobby, which was outraged at the religious war in South Sudan. He added: ‘The coalition of the Jewish and Christian lobbies [in the U.S.] is against us [due to] the [Sudanese] support for terrorism and persecution of Christians, and because of the religious war [in South Sudan]. Therefore, we need this certificate of innocence from Israel, and need it to assure the U.S. on our behalf that we have overcome this stage [of supporting terrorism]... We will wait and see what they do for us in terms of lifting the sanctions, since it is the U.S. that organized the meeting [between Al-Burhan and Netanyahu], and therefore it is witness to the fact that that we have dealt with this issue.

“He continued: ‘This is the first step, and if we go beyond it and remove the name of Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, we will have all the opportunities that the process of normalization affords, in terms of technical and economic cooperation…”  

The Sudanese Today Support Normalization With Israel – Because They Wish To Build Their Future

“Al-Mahdi continued: ‘The benefit Israel will derive from [relations with] Sudan is very great, because Africa is the only market left for which the world is competing, and Sudan is the key [to Africa]. Exports from Sudan to Israel in the 1950s were estimated in the millions [of dollars]. Many Sudanese companies exported to Israel, and there was a large Jewish community that worked in exports to Israel.’

“In response to Israeli press reports that [during the Al-Bashir era] Al-Mahdi and former [Sudanese] foreign minister Ibrahim Ghandour had met in secret with top Israeli officials, Al-Mahdi said: ‘This is not true; I did not meet with any Israeli and I was not part of these matters.’ He added: ‘Under usual circumstances, these matters were never given to us to handle, because we were considered rivals [of the regime]. They were given to Al-Bashir’s associates... They were handled only by president Al-Bashir and the security apparatus, even foreign minister Ibrahim Ghandour was not involved in the matter. Only after the siege closed in around the regime did [Ghandour] lead negotiations with the Israelis. As far as I know, Al-Bashir himself wanted to meet with the Israeli officials but someone advised Netanyahu not to meet with him because he was accused of war crimes and genocide [in Darfur].’

“According to Al-Mahdi, Ghandour’s negotiations with the Israelis focused on cessation of [Sudan’s] support for the armed movements in Gaza, and of arming them, and the [Sudanese] regime clarified that it would not oppose this cessation in exchange for the lifting of the sanctions on it. The former official [Al-Mahdi] said that there was no significant opposition to normalization with Israel, ‘except for a few extremists who repeat hollow slogans about  Jerusalem, but if you tell them to go fight they won’t.’ He continued: ‘...The Sudanese now support normalization [with Israel] because they want to lay the foundations for their future. Ideologies no longer interest them as they did in the past. [The late Egyptian president] Gamal ‘Abd Al-Nasser played on the strings of the Palestinian issue, and during his time the Arabs lost a great deal – until the arrival of Sadat, who discerned [Nasser’s] huge mistake and therefore normalized relations with Israel, and paid a price [for doing so].’”


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