Israel is expected to recognize South Sudan as an independent state in the coming weeks, according to sources at the Foreign Ministry. South Sudan will declare its independence tomorrow at a ceremony attended by representatives from all over the world.
Israel is not sending a representative to the ceremony, but plans to announce that it recognizes the new state immediately after the United States and European Union countries do so.
The readiness to recognize South Sudan come at the same time that Israel is conducting an international campaign to block the recognition of a Palestinian state by the United Nations General Assembly in September. Israel has argued that a Palestinian state must be established only as a result of negotiations and not by unilateral measures.
Sources at the Foreign Ministry said that contrary to a Palestinian state, South Sudan will declare its independence following negotiations and agreement, and thus Israel views positively the recognition of the new state.
In 2005 a peace agreement was signed between the government of Sudan and the interim government of South Sudan concluding a bloody civil war between Christians and Muslims. The decision to declare independence followed a plebiscite held in South Sudan in January.
The Foreign Ministry attaches great significance to South Sudan and appointed a special coordinator to deal with the subject several months ago. The ministry has been exchanging secret messages with the government of South Sudan for a long time.
In October 2010, the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, declared that Israel is not an enemy and that he will weigh diplomatic relations with it, including the opening of an Israeli embassy in the capital, Juba.
More than 8,000 refugees from Sudan live in Israel. While no decision has been made it is likely that following the establishment of diplomatic relations, Israel will seek to repatriate most of the refugees to South Sudan.
Israel also has security concerns since Sudan has been a transit area for smuggling of arms from Iran to the Gaza Strip.
There are about 8,500 asylum seekers from Sudan in Israel today. Nearly 2,000 of them are thought to be from South Sudan.
Due to the situation in Sudan, Israel's treatment of Sudanese asylum seekers is guided by the recommendations of the UN Commission for Refugees. Most are arrested after crossing the border from Egypt and are taken by the IDF to the Saharonim holding area in the Negev. The Immigration and Population Authority then processes the refugees and identifies them. If they prove they are from Sudan, they are released and given a temporary visa.
Even after South Sudan declares independence, the standing of asylum seekers living in Israel is not expected that to change. The UN Commission for Refugees will continue monitoring developments in Sudan and only in a few months will it advise the Interior Ministry on the matter.
However, even if the situation in Sudan is deemed sufficiently stable for the refugees to return, another problem exists: Israel has no diplomatic ties with Sudan, which is defined as an enemy state. As such, it is likely that Israel will not expel the asylum seekers back to their country.
During the past few months, in a special arrangement with the Sudanese authorities and with the help of a Christian organization operating in Israel, several hundred Sudanese asylum seekers agreed to return to their country. The UN Commission for Refugees verified that every one of them had opted to return to Sudan out of free will and not because of economic or other pressures.
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