Following in the “footsteps” of Bahrain and UAE from August 2020 and more recently, of Sudan at the end of October 2020, on Thursday, December 10th, Morocco concluded a normalization deal with Israel, as part of the Abraham Accords brokered by the US, in the last month of President Trump’s mandate.
The late King Hassan II worked for the accomplishment of three main policy areas: Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara, seeking a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and his kingdom’s relationship with the US. The three issues have continued to characterize Moroccan foreign policy and it is therefore fitting that a deal was last week secured that included them all.
In the announcement of the agreement, made by the US president, Israel and Morocco will restore diplomatic and other relations, including the immediate opening of liaison offices in Rabat and Tel Aviv, and the planned to open of embassies. They will also allow direct overflight rights for airlines.
As part of the agreement, Trump said that the US would recognize Morocco’s claim over the disputed Western Sahara region.
“This will be a very warm peace,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall. “The light of peace on this Hanukkah day has never shone brighter than today in the Middle East. The people of Morocco and the Jewish people have had a warm relationship. Everybody knows the tremendous friendship shown by the kings of Morocco and the people of Morocco to the Jewish community there.”
In a statement, Moroccan King Mohammed VI said that in the near future Morocco will facilitate direct flights from Israel to Morocco, resume official bilateral ties and diplomatic relations with Israel as soon as possible, and seek “to develop innovative relationships in the economic and technological fields.”
Israel and Morocco established low-level diplomatic relations during the 1990s following Israel’s interim peace accords with the Palestinians, but ties were suspended after the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada in 2000. Since then, informal ties have continued, and every year some 50,000 Israelis travel to Morocco, often on trips to discover their roots. There are around 460,000 Moroccan Jews living in Israel, and they have a strong cultural presence.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has described Morocco as a role model for tolerance in the Middle East and North Africa region and in the world. “Morocco’s efforts to promote tolerance – from its historical tradition of protecting its Jewish minority, the signing of the Marrakech declaration, to yesterday’s agreement with Israel — set an example to the region and throughout the world,” Pompeo said. The top US diplomat made the statement on December 11th, one day after US President Donald Trump announced Morocco and Israel will establish diplomatic relations.
“The agreement reached yesterday between Israel and Morocco to normalize relations is another remarkable step toward peace,” Pompeo commented.
Regarding Trump’s second announcement on December 10, that the US officially recognizes Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, Pompeo affirmed that the Moroccan Autonomy Plan is the only possible solution to the territorial dispute. “The United States continues to believe only political negotiations are capable of resolving the issues between Morocco and the Polisario. As we have long stated, we believe those negotiations should occur within the framework of Morocco’s Autonomy Plan,” the US diplomat said.
Morocco’s autonomy initiative, presented to the UN in April 2007, suggests turning Western Sahara into a semi-autonomous region under Moroccan sovereignty. The local population would independently manage socio-economic and political issues, while Morocco would remain responsible for diplomacy and defense, among other matters of national interest.
Pompeo emphasized the strength of Morocco-US relations, recalling that the Kingdom was the first country to officially recognize the US in 1777 after its independence. “Morocco opened its ports to the ships of the new American republic, allowing us to engage in trade and commerce and supporting our fight for freedom. Our friendship has endured,” he said.
Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nasser Bourita told Israeli news channel KAN that Morocco’s decision to resume ties with Israel is a sovereign decision that draws from the strong US-Morocco ties and the longstanding positive relations between Morocco and the Jewish community in general. Bourita indicated that the Israeli of Moroccan descent can testify to the quality of their relations with King Mohammed VI and Morocco in general.
Meanwhile, US Ambassador to Morocco David Fischer described the rapprochement between Morocco and Israel as a “historic milestone.”
International reactions to the new agreement
World leaders from Bahrain, Egypt, Omar, the UAE, and a number of Western countries have also spoken warmly of the news.
Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa welcomed the move on December 10, saying the decision will support the “opportunities to achieve peace, stability, and prosperity in the region.”
The Bahraini monarch also applauded the US’ move to recognize the sovereignty of Morocco over Western Sahara. Bahrain, which supports Morocco’s territorial integrity, celebrated the US’ decision to open a consulate in the city of Dakhla, southern Morocco.
For his part, the UAE’s crown prince said that these positive steps will consolidate the “common quest for stability, prosperity, and peace in the region.”
Egypt also announced support for Morocco’s decision to normalize ties with Israel. “I followed with great interest the important development regarding Morocco and Israel agreeing to normalize relations between them under American auspices,” Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi tweeted on December 10. According to the Egyptian president, the move is a valuable, important step for more stability in the region.
Oman also supported Morocco’s move. “(Oman) welcomes what Morocco’s King Mohammed VI announced in his phone call with US President Trump and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and hopes this will further endeavor to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East,” Oman’s foreign ministry said on Friday.
Dominic Raab, the UK’s Foreign Secretary, called the announcement “a positive step for two valued partners of the UK.” The UK added that it supports efforts to reach negotiated and mutually acceptable solutions to end Western Sahara and Palestinian conflicts. “Our position on the status of Western Sahara remains unchanged,” he stressed.
The spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, Stephane Dujarric said on December 11 that the US recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara and the resumption of ties with Israel was Morocco’s decision. Dujarric also said he wishes that Donald Trump’s move in recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara contributes to peace and economic prosperity in the MENA region.
Following President Trump’s announcement, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the UN’s position on Western Sahara remains “unchanged.” In the past decade, the UN has advocated for a political solution within the framework of the UN Security Council’s resolutions.
Guterres also advised the conflicting parties “to avoid any action that could further aggravate a tense situation.”
The US is a permanent member of the UN SC, which is leading the political process to end the decades-long dispute over Western Sahara. In recent years, Morocco’s proposition for a compromise-based and pragmatic solution to the dispute has won notable plaudits in the international community. An increasing number of countries and international observers see the country’s Autonomy Plan — which the UN SC has described as “serious” and “credible” — as the most viable route to a lasting solution to the Sahara crisis.
Palestinian reactions to the new agreement
The Palestinians have condemned the normalisation announcements, which broke with decades of Arab League consensus against recognition of Israel until it agrees to a peace that includes the creation of a Palestinian state. Opposition against the deals has emerged as a unifying force between the two main Palestinian entities on the ground, Fatah and Hamas.
Even though King Mohammed VI has said Morocco will remain an advocate for the Palestinians, on the streets of Gaza on Sunday, December 13th, Palestinians criticised the monarch.
“The Moroccan people are not satisfied with what the Moroccan leader did with the Israelis,” Gaza resident Moamen al-Harthani told AFP. “Normalisation leads to the destruction of the Palestinian cause,” he said.
Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahrar called on Morocco’s parliament to pass legislation “to criminalise the normalisation”.
Israel’s former United Nations ambassador Danny Danon said the Palestinians needed to “understand that today there is a new paradigm”. The Arab model of no ties with Israel, until the Palestinian conflict is resolved, has been cast aside, he argued. “The new paradigm is first we are forging ties with the Muslim world, with the Arab countries, and together with them we can approach the Palestinians,” Danon said, suggesting that future peace talks could include delegates from other Arab states.
However, during a phone call with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, King Mohammed VI vowed that his and Morocco’s position on the Palestinian cause remains unchanged.
Despite Morocco’s decision to normalize ties with Israel, King Mohammed VI said his position on Palestine, which he “inherited from his father,” the late King Hassan II, is consistent and unchanging. The King assured that “Morocco always places the Palestinian issue in the rank of the Moroccan Sahara issue, and that Morocco’s work to consolidate its Moroccanness will never be, neither today nor in the future, at the expense of the Palestinian people’s struggle for their legitimate rights.”
He stressed to Abbas that Morocco supports a solution based on two states living side by side in peace and security. Negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli parties remain the only way to reach a final, lasting, and comprehensive settlement of this conflict, the King said.
The King also emphasized the need to preserve the special status of Jerusalem and respect the freedom of followers of all three monotheistic religions to observe their faith. He also underlined the need to protect the Islamic character of Jerusalem and the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Further to last week’s announcement, the Moroccan government has been keen to underscore its commitment to the Palestinian cause. In many respects, this is why its diplomatic activity has not been met with the level of criticism that followed the Bahraini and Emirati normalization efforts. This is, however, separate to and exclusive of its own relationship with the Jewish people, which is a long-standing and indeed a critical facet of Morocco’s tolerant society. The multiconfessional and multiracial fabric of Morocco is central to its identity; indeed, the pluralism that other Arab nations are only now trying to encourage has always been a fact of life in Morocco.
The relationship between the two countries has familial, cultural, and historical significance.
Effects of the agreement
On December 10, Morocco’s Royal Cabinet confirmed that the country will facilitate direct flights to transport Jewish people of Moroccan origin and Israeli tourists to and from Morocco.
While preparations are still underway for the launch of future air routes, Morocco’s flag carrier Royal Air Maroc is also likely to operate several weekly flights to and from Israel.
Moreover, on December 14, Israeli airlines El Al and Israir have expressed their eagerness to launch direct flights between Israel and Morocco.
El Al said it “will begin operational preparations for operating direct flights to Casablanca, subject to obtaining all the necessary approvals from the various authorities,” the Jerusalem Post reported last week. According to the Israeli newspaper, Israel’s flag carrier considers flights to and from Morocco to “be very popular among Israeli clientele.”
Israir, meanwhile, announced that within a few months, they will launch 20 weekly flights between Israel and Morocco. “If all parties are serious, it will be possible to open direct lines within three months,” Israir CEO Uri Sirkis told Israeli media, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Direct routes between Morocco and Israel could be very lucrative for the airlines operating them, considering the number of Israelis that visit the North African country every year. Morocco hosts several sacred sites for Jewish people, including synagogues, cemeteries, and other monuments. Moroccan cities known for their rich Jewish heritage include Casablanca, Rabat, Tangier, Fez, Meknes, Marrakech, Essaouira, and Safi.
There are rumors pretending that countries like Oman and Indonesia are next in line for the conclusion of similar deals. Also, there is much speculation that Saudi Arabia may also soon sign an agreement with Israel.
This article was edited using data from the following websites: www.al-monitor.com, www.english.aawsat.com, www.reuters.com, www.arabnews.com, www.jpost.com, www.israel21c.org, and www.moroccoworldnews.com.