Fred Fleitz: Sudan-Israel agreement normalizing relations marks a revolutionary change — all thanks to Trump

Fred Fleitz: Sudan-Israel agreement normalizing relations marks a revolutionary change — all thanks to Trump

October 25, 2020

Morgan Ortagus: Trump’s Sudan-Israel peace deal ‘unprecedented’

State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus talks to ‘Fox & Friends Weekend’ about Trump’s latest Middle East peace deal.

President Trump, fresh from his successful debate performance against former Vice President Joe Biden, had a major surprise announcement Friday: a peace agreement between Sudan and Israel to normalize relations.

The agreement is the third of its kind in recent weeks between Israel and an Arab nation and follows similar agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. President Trump said at least five additional Arab countries could join peace deals with Israel, including Saudi Arabia.

The Israeli-Sudanese agreement is an extraordinarily important one that is both highly symbolic and unexpected. It is the result of President Trump’s unconventional and successful approach to foreign policy, and hard work by his national security team.

TRUMP'S MIDDLE EAST PEACE DEALS 'REJECTED CONVENTIONAL WISDOM': STATE DEPT.

To his credit, President Trump rejected the advice of the foreign policy establishment — especially State Department careerists — that the first step toward normalized relations between Israel and the Arab world had to be an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

The president made it clear to Palestinian leaders that due to their longtime refusal to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel, repeated attacks on Israel from Palestinian territory, and close Palestinian ties to terrorist groups and Iran, the U.S. would no longer give them an effective veto over other peace efforts and U.S. Middle East policy.

As a result, under President Trump the United States took long-overdue steps favoring our close ally Israel by moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognizing Israeli sovereignty of the Golan Heights, which Israeli forces seized from Syria after Syrian troops attacked the Jewish state in the 1967 Six-Day War.

In an earlier era, Trump’s moves would have outraged the Arab world and possibly led to war or terrorist attacks against Israeli and U.S. targets. Indeed, some foreign policy experts made such predictions. This didn’t happen for three reasons.

First, President Trump forged a strong relationship with Arab states that included a historic summit with Arab heads of state in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in May 2017.

President Donald Trump hangs up a phone call with the leaders of Sudan and Israel, as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, left, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, and others applaud in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
((AP Photo/Alex Brandon))

Second, Trump withdrew from the deeply flawed nuclear deal with Iran in 2018. This move repudiated the destabilizing and incoherent policy of the Barack Obama-Joe Biden administration, which naively saw Iran as a major regional player and U.S. partner — instead of the persistent enemy of America and other Middle East states that it really is.

And third, Trump correctly foresaw that most Arab states are fed up with Palestinian leaders for being an obstacle to peace and for their relationships with terrorists and Iran. As a result, growing numbers of Arab leaders are prepared to ignore the Palestinian leadership and seek peace agreements with Israel in response to security concerns regarding the danger they face from Iran.

Trump’s major break from conventional foreign policy wisdom continues to cause grumbling from liberal foreign policy experts and European leaders — many of whom are increasingly anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian.

Indeed, the president’s foreign policy initiative exposed the most dangerous aspect of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. The establishment’s embrace of progressive ideas and insistence that the Palestinian veto be resurrected now represents a greater obstacle to Arab-Israeli peace than any forces on the ground in the Middle East.

This is not to say the Trump administration has closed the door to a peace agreement with the Palestinians that would confer enormous benefits on the Palestinian people.

Trump unveiled his “Deal of the Century” Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement in January. The extremely generous deal included the astounding sum of $50 billion in investment to jumpstart the Palestinian economy, the creation of 1 million jobs for Palestinians in the West Bank, and the establishment of a capital in East Jerusalem for a Palestinian state.

Israel, which has sought peace with the Palestinians and its neighbors since the founding of the modern Jewish state in 1948, quickly endorsed the Trump plan as the basis for negotiations with the Palestinians.

Unfortunately, as they have done so many times over the years, Palestinian leaders rejected this beneficial agreement out of hand and called it a “surrender document.” 

Nevertheless, U.S. and Israeli officials have repeatedly said the deal is still on the table and that they are open to commencing peace talks with Palestinian officials. Trump administration officials also have expressed the hope that Arab states signing peace agreements with Israel could lead Palestinian officials to agree to talks.

The agreements to normalize relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, known as the Abraham Accords, were signed at the White House on Sept. 15.

While the UAE and Bahrain agreements marked a significant move toward peace in the Middle East, deals with these states might be described as low-hanging fruit. The UAE and Bahrain are close U.S. allies with strong monarchies that did not face significant domestic opposition or unrest for making peace and normalizing relations with Israel.

The Israel-Sudan agreement is a huge win for Sudan, Israel, the United States and Middle East peace.

This is not the case for Sudan. After 30 years of oppression, ethnic violence and civil war, Sudanese dictator Omar Bashir was overthrown in April 2019. He was replaced with a shaky provisional government that faces Islamic insurgencies, hundreds of thousands of refugees, rebel groups and a devastated economy. It has done well so far transitioning the country toward stability and democracy.

Since Bashir’s ouster, Trump administration officials have moved toward normalizing U.S. relations with Sudan, which was placed on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism in 1998 because of its role in the Al Qaeda bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The Sudanese government also was involved in the Al Qaeda bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

Desperate for economic assistance to rebuild the country after 30 years of civil war and mismanagement by Bashir, the interim government took responsibility for these terrorist attacks and agreed to pay compensation.

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The Trump administration notified Congress on Friday that Sudan had deposited $335 million into a fund for U.S. victims of terrorism. Trump officials in response took Sudan off of the U.S. terrorism list.

The interim Sudanese government has taken a big risk signing a peace agreement with Israel because of instability in the country. But U.S. diplomats convinced Sudanese leaders that this deal would accelerate the country’s bid to join the community of nations and attract foreign aid and investment.

Also important, Sudan is where the infamous Khartoum Resolution was passed by the Arab League in 1967. The document is the foundation for today’s refusal of most Arab states to normalize relations with the Jewish state. This resolution, passed in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, called for "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.”   

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The Sudan-Israel peace deal, therefore, is especially significant not just because of the risks the Sudanese government took in agreeing to it, but because this agreement will be seen as a clear repudiation of the Khartoum Resolution. It is an important sign of Arab states viewing Israel as a friend instead of an enemy. This is a revolutionary and historic change.

Any way you look at it, the Israel-Sudan agreement is a huge win for Sudan, Israel, the United States and Middle East peace. And it would not have happened without the successful leadership and unorthodox foreign policy of President Trump.

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