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Trump’s incentives to sign peace deals with Israel could be threatened

WASHINGTON – For Sudan, agree to normalize relations with Israel was the price of withdrawal from the American list of sponsoring states of terrorism.

A similar diplomatic agreement with Israel sealed Morocco’s demand for the United States to recognize its sovereignty over the Western Sahara region.

United Arab Emirates officials who wanted to buy F-35 stealth fighter jets from the United States had to first sign Abraham’s accords, the product of President Trump’s campaign to promote stability between Israel and distant or even hostile Muslim states.

In either case, the incentives that the Trump administration suspended in exchange for detente could fail – either rejected by Congress or canceled by the administration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.

This not only endangers the series of regional rapprochement agreements, but also exacerbates a worldview that the United States cannot rely on to delay its share of diplomatic deals.

the Abraham’s Agreements, Mr. Trump’s flagship foreign policy achievement, either newly negotiated or revived Israel’s economic and political relations with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Morocco. Officials familiar with the administration’s efforts have said Oman and Tunisia could be the next states to join, and the warming could spread to countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa even after Mr. Trump in January.

The official easing of tensions between Israel and its regional neighbors is a success, of course, that 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, chairman and CEO of the International Crisis Group, which is close to Antoine Blinken, the choice of Mr. Biden for the post of Secretary of State.

Mr Malley said he was not speaking on behalf of the Biden administration but predicted that it would try to roll back or dilute parts of standards agreements that defy international standards, as in the case of the Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, or would otherwise challenge the long-standing United States. political, such as sales of F-35s to the Emirates.

Congress has also shown concern over the deal being concluded.

The Senate last week narrowly accepted the UAE’s purchase of stealth jets, drones and other precision weapons, signaling concern over the extension of arms deals to the Persian Gulf. This could be reversed if Democrats take control of the chamber after the second round in Georgia next month; Either way, the Biden administration will review the move to ensure that the sale of $ 23 billion to the UAE does not weaken Israel’s military advantage in the region.

A day after the Senate vote, Republican Armed Services Commission 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 The United Nations, the European Union and the African Union all consider Western Sahara to be contested territory.

“I am saddened that the rights of the Saharawi people have been violated,” Mr. Inhofe said in a statement. declaration. “The president was badly advised by his team; he could have concluded this agreement without exchanging the rights of a people without a voice.

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”, declared Mr. Othmani in a interview with Al Jazeera. “But victory in this battle required concomitance.”

Nowhere has the diplomatic agreement been more delicate 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 American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. As part of those negotiations, the Sudanese transitional government had demanded the dismissal of all other terrorism prosecutions it faced as a result of attacks in its 27 years on the list.

The State Department agreed and responded last summer with one 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 found themselves in a deadlock, as this would deprive the families of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks of 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 during negotiations last week. furious in Congress.

Sudan insists it is not responsible for the September 11 attacks, given that Qaida chief Osama bin Laden left his sanctuary in the country five years before they were carried out. Corn the congressional compromise that was worked out, according to officials and others close to the negotiations, allows the 9/11 lawsuits to continue, potentially making Sudan liable for billions of dollars in victim compensation.

Representatives of the Sudanese embassy in Washington declined to comment but previously said the country may exit peace agreements with Israel if he does not enjoy immunity from prosecution for terrorism. As the Trump administration tries to prevent the deal from collapsing, an official confirmed a Bloomberg report that the United States had offered Sudan a billion dollar loan to help it clear its arrears and obtain up to $ 1.5 billion in development assistance per year. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is expected to visit Sudan, Israel and the Emirates with a high-level delegation to the region next month.

Bahrain appears to be the only exception among countries that have received incentives under normalization agreements with Israel, although last week the State Department designated the country linked to Iran. Saraya al-Mukhtar as a terrorist group, in part for his 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 will designate Houthi rebels in Yemen as a foreign terrorist organization, in part to persuade 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 end Iranian support for the Houthis, who took control of most of Yemen, overthrew its government and attacked neighboring Saudi Arabia in their five-year border. war. It could also ban the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen’s main ports, most of which are Houthi-controlled, and in turn, exacerbate a 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 it did occur, and by then could be driven more by a growing number of young adults in the kingdom who are more concerned with jobs and economic stability in their country than with a multi-generation conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Nikki Haley, who served as Mr. Trump’s first ambassador to the United Nations, said that a secret trip Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to Saudi Arabia last month to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was a signal daring 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 be wary of appearing to back down from Israel, which is the most powerful U.S. ally in the Middle East and wields influence. considerable policy on American evangelists and Jews. voters.

“I think President-elect Biden will try to build on this momentum because it is good for the United States, it is good for the allies of the United States, and I think it will be the right thing to do,” said Danny Danon, who retired this year as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Alan Report contributed to Washington reporting, and Aida Alami from Rabat, Morocco.