JERUSALEM, Israel – In a historic move, Israel and Sudan have agreed to begin normalizing ties after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a secret meeting with Sudanese leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on Monday.
The agreement marks a dramatic shift in relations between Israel and the Islamic nation. Sudan is historically Israel’s enemy and went to war against the Jewish State during Israel’s 1948 War for Independence. Sudan also joined Arab armies in fighting against Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967.
Israel and Sudan do not have official bilateral relations but the US and other Western countries have previously encouraged the two countries to improve relations.
Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that the prime minister “believes that Sudan is headed in a new positive direction” and he expressed these views to United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Meanwhile, Sudan’s leader wants to modernize his country and take it out of isolation. Sudan is eager to lift US sanctions linked to its support of terror.
The Times of Israel reports that Burhan agreed to meet with Netanyahu because officials thought it would “accelerate” the process of being removed from the US terror list.
The country is working towards rebuilding its economy after deposing longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir last year. Burhan leads Sudan's transitional government, a body of military officials and civilians that was established as a part of a power-sharing agreement after Bashir was overthrown.
Sudan’s traditional government said it did not know about the monumental meeting.
“We received the news about the meeting between chief of the sovereign council and Israeli prime minister through the media,” Government spokesman Faisal Mohamed Salih said in a statement.
“We, the members of the cabinet, were not notified or consulted about this meeting. We are waiting for the chief of the sovereign council to return and give clarification about this.”
The meeting came just days after Sudan joined the Arab League in condemning President Donald Trump’s Israeli Palestinian peace plan. Palestinian leaders said Israel’s improving relations with Sudan is a “stab in the back.”
“This meeting is a stab in the back of the Palestinian people and a blatant departure from the Arab Peace Initiative at a time when the administration of [US] President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu are trying to liquidate the Palestinian cause,” said Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, in a statement.
The Arab Peace Initiative was created in 2002 and calls for peace with Israel and the Arab states if Israel agrees to pull out of the West Bank. The plan also seeks to make East Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian State and allow Palestinian refugees and their children to return to the land. The plan was endorsed by all 22 states in the Arab League.
Netanyahu held the secret meeting with Burhan after visiting Uganda. Uganda’s president said he is a friend of Israel and is “studying” opening its embassy in Jerusalem.
Erekat also condemned Uganda’s embassy announcement and called on all member states of the African Union, including Uganda, to uphold their previous commitments to see the establishment of the Palestinian state with eastern Jerusalem as its capital.