Dec 7, 2020 - World

Scoop: Israel lobbies senators to pass Sudan immunity bill

Pompeo and Sudan leader
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in Khartmoum. Photo: Handout via Getty Images

After a request from the Sudanese government, Israel has started lobbying senators and members of Congress to approve a bill that would give Sudan immunity from future lawsuits in the U.S. by victims of terrorism, senior Israeli officials told me.

Why it matters: The immunity bill was part of a trilateral deal between the U.S., Sudan and Israel that included an agreement to begin the process of normalizing ties. Israeli officials are concerned that the normalization process will come to a halt if the deal unravels. The deadline for passing the bill is Dec. 14.

Driving the news: Israeli diplomats in Washington have started stressing to senators and members of Congress in recent days that if the immunity bill doesn’t pass, it could have negative implications not only for the normalization process with Sudan, but also for future normalization deals with other Arab countries, Israeli officials told me.

What they're saying: “Since Sudan decided to normalize relations with Israel, Israel obviously has an interest to help resolve Sudan's problems in Washington. This can encourage other countries to normalize relations with Israel too," a senior Israeli official told me.

The state of play: The announcement of the U.S.-Israel-Sudan deal sparked an uproar from families of 9/11 victims who demanded to maintain the right to file lawsuits against the Sudanese government for the alleged assistance it gave to Al-Qaeda two decades ago.

  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) both decided to try and block the bill under pressure from their constituents.
  • Two weeks ago, an Israeli delegation visited Khartoum, Sudan. The Israelis brought along Aryeh Lightstone, an adviser to the U.S. ambassador to Israel who was a driving force behind the deal with Sudan, U.S. sources told me.
  • During the visit, the chairman of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan raised with the Israelis and Lightstone the issue of the immunity bill and asked the Israeli government and Trump administration to work with Congress to solve the problem, the sources told me.
  • The New York Times reported last week that Burhan had a similar conversation with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. According to the Times, Burhan warned that Sudan would put the normalization process with Israel on hold if the bill doesn’t pass. One of Burhan’s deputies said the same thing to Sudanese media.

What’s next: Israeli officials told me the messages they received from the Sudanese government didn’t contain threats, but a request for help in Washington.

  • The Israeli officials said they got assurances from the Trump administration and from senior senators and members of Congress that the issue of the immunity bill will be solved.
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