The latest Arab country to normalize relations with Israel is Sudan. It is the third Arab country in recent months to initiate bilateral relations with the Jewish state – and only the fifth in history.
In addition to the practical realities of the new relationship, there is also something symbolic about the announcement of mutual relations. It was in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, that the Arab League met after the 1967 war and issued the “three nos” – no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.
After trouncing its invading neighbours in six days of war, Israel extended an olive branch, offering land for peace. In exchange for the Arab world’s recognition of Israel and its right to exist, Israel would return the land it obtained in the war to Egypt and Jordan. The response was the triple negative. The occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip began that year and could have ended that year, but Arab states were more opposed to any recognition of a Jewish state than they were concerned with the fate of the land Israel occupied or the people who lived there.
The seemingly sudden about-face by, first, the United Arab Emirates, then Bahrain and now Sudan has as much to do with regional geopolitics as it does with any Arab admiration for Israel. There is also the fact of the U.S. election in the timing of these announcements, and other international financial and defence features of these deals that are less clear in intent. In history, all things happen for a range of reasons – the end of apartheid, the collapse of the Soviet bloc, for example – but these various inputs do not distract from or diminish the larger outcome.
More than a half-century after the Arab world said no, no, no, so far in this year we have heard yes, yes, yes. And the rumours now are that Saudi Arabia will follow soon. This would be the most potentially significant development yet in this regard, even as there should be major questions about allying with another despotic regime.
What’s true is that the opening of relations with Israel represents an end to the effective Palestinian veto over Arab relations with Israel. And the radical departure of Arab states from the diplomatic status quo will likely alter the position of Palestinian leaders, as they realize their diminished standing in the Arab world’s regional calculation. That could result in the most substantial change of all.