WASHINGTON – For Sudan, agreeing to normalize relations with Israel has been the price of being removed from the American list of sponsoring states of terrorism.
A similar diplomatic deal with Israel sealed Morocco’s demand for the United States to recognize sovereignty over the Western Sahara region.
UAE officials who wanted to buy F-35 stealth fighter jets from the United States first had to sign the Abraham Accords, the product of President Trump’s campaign to foster stability between Israel and states remote or even hostile Muslims.
In either case, the incentives that the Trump administration threw in return for detente could fail – either rejected by Congress or canceled by the administration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.
This not only jeopardizes the series of regional rapprochement agreements, but also exacerbates a worldview that the United States cannot be counted on to delay the end of diplomatic agreements.
The Abraham Accords, Mr. Trump’s flagship foreign policy achievement, either recently negotiated or revived Israel’s economic and political ties with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Morocco. Officials familiar with the administration’s efforts have said Oman and Tunisia may be the next states to join, and that the warming may be extended to countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa even after Mr. Trump in January.
The formal easing of tensions between Israel and its regional neighbors is undoubtedly a success that the former Republican and Democratic presidents have long sought to foster.
“All diplomacy is transactional, but these transactions mix things up that shouldn’t have been mixed up,” said Robert Malley, president and CEO of the International Crisis Group, close to Antony Blinken, Mr. Biden’s choice. for the Secretary of State.
Mr Malley predicted that the new Biden administration would try to roll back or dilute parts of normalization agreements that challenge international norms, as in the case of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, or call into question the long-standing policy of the United States, such as the F-35 sales to the Emirates.
Congress has also shown concern over the deal being concluded.
Last week, the Senate narrowly agreed to the UAE’s purchase of stealth planes, drones and other precision weapons, signaling concern over expanding arms deals in the Persian Gulf. This could be reversed if Democrats take control of the chamber after the second round of elections in Georgia next month; Either way, the move will be scrutinized by the Biden administration to ensure that the sale of $ 23 billion to the UAE does not blunt Israel’s military advantage in the region.
A day after the Senate vote, Republican Armed Services Committee Chairman Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma said it was “shocking and disappointing” that the Trump administration decided to recognize the Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara and predicted that it would be reversed. The United Nations, the European Union and the African Union all consider Western Sahara to be disputed territory.
“I am saddened that the rights of the Western Saharawi people have been sold off,” Mr. Inhofe said in a statement. “The president was badly advised by his team; he could have made this agreement without trading the rights of a voiceless people.
Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine el-Othmani said on Tuesday that his government “did not want this to be an exchange”.
“We are not negotiating with the Sahara,” Mr. Othmani said in an interview with Al Jazeera. “But victory in this battle required concomitance.”
Nowhere has the diplomatic agreement been more difficult than for Sudan.
The State Department had already decided to remove Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism in exchange for compensation by Khartoum for the victims of the 1998 attacks against the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. As part of those negotiations, the transitional government of Sudan had demanded the dismissal of all other terrorism prosecutions it had faced as a result of attacks carried out during its 27 years on the list.
The State Department agreed and fired back last summer with a condition of its own: that Sudan begin to thaw half a century of hostilities with Israel.
Only Congress, however, can grant Sudan the legal peace it seeks. In recent months, lawmakers have been deadlocked to do so, as it would deny the families of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks their day in court.
“We have always wanted all terrorists to be held accountable for their actions on September 11,” said Kristen Breitweiser, a lawyer whose husband was killed in the New York bombings, in a statement released last week at fierce negotiations in Congress.
Sudan insists it is not responsible for the September 11 attacks, given that Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden left his sanctuary in the country five years before their execution. But The compromise in Congress that has been worked out, according to officials and others close to the negotiations, allows the 9/11 prosecution to continue, potentially making Sudan responsible for billions of dollars in victim compensation.
Representatives of the Sudanese embassy in Washington declined to comment, but previously said the country could exit peace deals with Israel if it is not immune from terrorism prosecution. As the Trump administration tries to prevent the deal from collapsing, an official confirmed a Bloomberg report that the United States offered Sudan a $ 1 billion loan to help it settle its arrears and obtain up to $ 1.5 billion in annual development assistance. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is expected to visit Sudan, Israel and the Emirates in a high-level delegation to the region next month.
Bahrain appears to be the only exception among countries that have been offered incentives under normalization agreements with Israel, although this week the State Department designated Iran-linked Saraya al-Mukhtar as a terrorist group, in part for its goal of overthrowing the tiny Sunni monarchy.
It has also fueled concern among current and former government officials and conflict analysts that the United States is naming the Houthi rebels in Yemen as a foreign terrorist organization, in part to convince Saudi Arabia to sign the agreements with Israel. .
Officials close to the decision said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was inclined to issue the designation to cut off Iran’s support for the Houthis, who took control of most of Yemen, ousted its government and attacked neighboring Saudi Arabia within their five-year border. war. It could also ban the flow of humanitarian aid to Yemen’s main ports, most of which are controlled by the Houthis, and in turn, exacerbate famine in one of the world’s poorest countries.
It is doubtful, however, that the designation of terrorism alone will persuade Saudi Arabia – the most powerful monarchy in the Middle East – to normalize its relations with Israel. This thaw could take years, if at all, and could then be further driven by a growing number of young adults in the kingdom who are more concerned with jobs and economic stability in their country than a conflict that has been around for generations. between Israel and Palestine. .
Nikki Haley, who was Mr. Trump’s first ambassador to the United Nations, said that a secret trip Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel took to Saudi Arabia last month to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was a daring signal of relaxation.
“These Arab countries want to be friends with Israel,” Haley told the Israel-based DiploTech World Summit on Wednesday.
Even if they disapprove of Mr. Trump’s transactional diplomacy, Mr. Biden and Mr. Blinken will also fear appearing to withdraw from Israel, which is the United States’ most powerful ally in the Middle East and wields influence. considerable policy on evangelists and American Jews. voters.
“I think President-elect Biden will try to keep this momentum going because it’s good for the United States, it’s good for the allies of the United States, and I think it will be the right thing to do,” said Danny Danon, who has retired. year as Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations.
Alan rappeport contributed to Washington reporting and Aida Alami from Rabat, Morocco.