Peace with Israel hinges on Congress granting Sudan immunity

Report says Sudan threatening to back out of normalization unless Congress passes a law to protect it from terror-related lawsuits.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Sudan is threatening to back out of the planned normalization with Israel unless the United States passes legislation to protect it from being sued by victims of terror attacks, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

Sudan Provisional Sovereignty Council Chairman General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan warned in a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo on Monday that if Congress does not approve the law giving Sudan immunity from lawsuits by victims of terrorism by the end of December, Sudan will freeze the normalization process with Israel, the report said.

Pompeo tried to reassure Burhan and promised that Congress would approve the bill in the coming weeks. The report indicated that the Trump administration is planning to hold a peace agreement signing ceremony later this month at the White House.

Sudan became the third Arab country to agree to normalize relations with Israel after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, but did so only after the United States agreed to remove it from the State Department’s list of countries that support terrorism in return for Sudan paying $335 million into a compensation fund.

Most of that money will be used to pay out claims to the victims of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded thousands more. The Al Qaeda terrorist organization claimed responsibility for the attacks, and it was found they had help from the extremist government of Sudan that was in power at the time.

However, some representatives in Congress are hesitant to pass the legislation because it does not pay out equally to all victims, and if the immunity bill does not pass, the funds will be returned to Sudan.

Opposition to the immunity is led by Democratic senators Robert Menendez and Chuck Schumer, who are reluctant to give Sudan protection from lawsuits related to the 9/11 terror attacks because they claim Sudan allowed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to live in the country between 1991 and 1996.

Both Menendez and Schumer are interested in promoting the normalization agreement between Israel and Sudan and want to help Sudan financially, but claim that they will not do so at the expense of the American victims of terrorism.

“The whole thing felt forced all along by an administration that wanted to use a terrorism designation as a political tool to try to get normalization with Israel,” Ilan Goldenberg, director of the Middle East Security program at the Center for a New American Security, told the Times. “When you cook up these kinds of very transactional deals with unrelated items that don’t make much sense, this sometimes happens.”

“I hope it [the Israel-Sudan peace deal] doesn’t fall apart, but I’m not necessarily all that surprised,” Goldenberg said.

The deal in which Sudan paid compensation and recognized Israel in return for getting removed from the terror list would pave the way for foreign investment in impoverished Sudan under the rule of Burhan, who is seen as the country’s first moderate leader in decades.

A Senate official told the Times that a compromise might be reached that would be included in a large military spending bill that Congress is expected to approve over the next two weeks.