Israel-Sudan talks could finally crack painful problem of African illegals

Although mixed signals are coming out of Khartoum, Israeli intelligence minister says peace talks are underway, with the issue of illegal Sudanese immigrants in Israel on the table.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

With mixed signals coming out of Sudan on the possibility of following the UAE in establishing diplomatic ties with the Jewish State, Israel’s Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said Wednesday that peace talks were underway with Khartoum.

On the table is the problem of African illegals, he says, many of them from Sudan. It’s a hot-button issue in Israel. According to the Interior Ministry, there are an estimated 38,000 African illegals living in Israel, 6,000 of them from Sudan. A 2018 Israel Police crime data report revealed that Eritrean and Sudanese illegals commit disproportionately more crimes in comparison to the general population.

“There are contacts with Sudan,” Cohen told Channel 12’s morning news show, supporting comments by Sudan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Haidar Badawi Sadiq, who told Sky News Arabia on Tuesday that Khartoum is conducting negotiations with Jerusalem.

According to Cohen, one of the benefits of a peace accord would be the repatriation of Sudanese migrants who entered Israel illegally in the past.

“When there is a peace agreement it must and will include the issue of returning the infiltrators from Israel back to Sudan. There has been no talk of numbers yet, it will happen as the talks progress and we reach the stage of signing an agreement,” he said in the interview.

Some of the Sudanese fled ethnic cleansing in the western region of Darfur in the early 2000s by forces allied to long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir. However, Israel maintains that most have come for economic reasons and are not refugees.

Al-Bashir, who kept his Muslim-Arab country virulently anti-Israel, was ousted in April 2019, and Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, a Christian, heads the military-civilian transition council that replaced him.

Sudan denies ties

Sudan quickly denied, however, the comments of its Foreign Ministry spokesman.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not discuss relations with Israel,” Sudan’s acting Foreign Minister Omer Gamar-Eddin said in a statement, adding that his office was “astonished” at its spokesman’s words.

Sadiq had said earlier: “Khartoum is looking forward to concluding a peace agreement with Israel based on Khartoum’s interests, without sacrificing its values,” and praised the UAE for agreeing to a peace accord with Israel last week. The move was “bold and courageous and maps the right path for the rest of the Arab countries,” he said.

“There is no reason for the continuation of hostility between Sudan and Israel,” he added. “We do not deny the existence of contacts between the two countries.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose to focus on the positive, putting out a statement quickly after the spokesman’s comments, saying his office “welcomed the position of the Sudanese Foreign Ministry, which reflects the brave decision of the Sovereignty Council Chairman to work toward advancing relations between the two countries.

“Israel, Sudan and the entire region will benefit from the peace agreement and will be able – together – to build a better future for all peoples of the region. We will do whatever is necessary to turn vision into reality.”

Israel’s first contact with Sudan took the country, and even some its leaders, by surprise. In February, Al-Burhan met Netanyahu in Uganda.

According to Al Jazeera, Burhan said afterward that his government would set up a committee to assess the potential advantages and disadvantages of diplomatic relations.