Morocco, Israel normalize ties
Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump and Morocco King Mohammed VI (photo credit: REUTERS)

Israel and Morocco have agreed to establish diplomatic relations, US President Donald Trump announced on Thursday.

Morocco became the fourth Arab country to normalize ties with Israel in four months, following the Abraham Accords with United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

"Another historic breakthrough today!" Trump tweeted. "Our two great friends Israel and the Kingdom of Morocco have agreed to full diplomatic relations — a massive breakthrough for peace in the Middle East!"

Israel and Morocco plan to reopen economic liaison offices, which were closed in 2002, and work quickly to exchange ambassadors and begin direct flights, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

In addition, Trump announced that he signed a proclamation recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara, a disputed territory. "Morocco's serious, credible, and realistic autonomy proposal is the ONLY basis for a just and lasting solution for enduring peace and prosperity!" he tweeted.

"Morocco recognized the United States in 1777. It is thus fitting we recognize their sovereignty over the Western Sahara," Trump added. No other UN member states recognize Western Sahara as part of Morocco.

The Trump administration viewed finalizing establishment of ties between the two countries as a prime goal in the past few weeks.

White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner said normalization "comes on the heels of four years of very, very hard work and very intense diplomacy."

The move is the culmination of a successful year of upgrading Israel's relations with Arab and Muslim countries, beginning with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting Chad and meeting Sudan's leader in Uganda, the Abraham Accords, as well as the warming relations and cooperation with Saudi Arabia, in addition to a number of other Arab states.

Israel proposed a scenario similar to what has since unfolded, by which normalization with Morocco would come in conjunction with American recognition of the Western Sahara, to the White House in the beginning of this year, as reported in multiple Israeli media sources.

French media reported that Morocco purchased three drones from Israel for $48 million in January.

Like the Gulf states, Morocco views Iran as a threat. Rabat cut ties with Tehran in 2018, because Iran funded Western Sahara separatist movement Polisario via Hezbollah.

Long before that, Morocco had a relationship with Israeli intelligence agencies. Moroccan King Hassan II gave Israel recordings of an Arab League meeting that helped Israel prepare for the Six Day War, according to former IDF intelligence chief Shlomo Gazit and former intelligence officer and cabinet minister Rafi Eitan. That same year, the Mossad helped Morocco abduct a dissident from France.

Netanyahu, however, focused on the many Israelis of Moroccan origin and not security matters in his remarks on normalization, which he called a "great light of peace" in honor of Hanukkah.

"Everyone knows the warm ties of the kings of Morocco and the Moroccan ppl to the Jewish community there," Netanyahu said. "Hundreds of thousands of Jews moved to Israel from Morocco and they form a living bridge between the people of Morocco and Israel. This solid base is the foundation on which we build this peace."

Trump's proclamation said the US "affirms, as stated by previous Administrations, its support for Morocco's autonomy proposal as the only basis for a just and lasting solution to the dispute over the Western Sahara territory — An independent Sahrawi State is not a realistic option for resolving the conflict and that genuine autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty is the only feasible solution."

"Therefore, as of today, the United States recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara territory."

The White House also urged the sides in the Western Sahara conflict to return to the negotiating table under the framework of Morocco's plan for autonomy for the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara.

The US plans to open a consulate in Dakhla, in Western Sahara, which the Moroccan Foreign Ministry said would have "a primarily economic vocation."

Kushner said recognizing Moroccan sovereignty in the Western Sahara was "something that seemed inevitable at this point; is something that we think advances the region and helps bring more clarity to where things are going."

Following the announcement, President Trump spoke with King Mohammed VI of Morocco. According to a readout provided by the White House, "the leaders discussed cooperation in the fight against the coronavirus, ways to minimize its economic impact, and common interests in critical regional issues."

"During the conversation the King agreed to resume diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel and expand economic and cultural cooperation to advance regional stability," the White House said in a statement.

The King Mohammed told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a phone call on Thursday that Rabat stands by a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a royal court statement said.

The king added that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are the only way to reach a final, lasting and comprehensive solution to the conflict.

King Mohammed also highlighted his commitment to a two-state solution, as well as the importance of freedom of worship in Jerusalem, during his conversation with Trump.

The White House, not Netanyahu, informed Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz of the developments with Morocco several weeks before they were made public, contrary to the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan deals in which they were told at the last minute.

Ashkenazi said that "today is another great day for Israeli diplomacy, a day of light befitting the holiday of Hanukkah.

"Renewing relations between Israel and the Kingdom of Morocco is an important part of the Abraham Accords that reflects the deep and longstanding friendship between the nations. I call on more nations to join the Abraham Accords' circle," he stated.

Ashkenazi added that he would like to light Hanukkah candles at the Israeli embassy in Rabat next year.

Moroccan-born law professor Shimon Shetreet, a minister in the governments of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, founding president of the World Union of Sephardi Jews and a declared candidate in the race for the 11th president of the State of Israel, was delighted by the announcement, calling it "a great blessing."

He anticipated that Israelis of Moroccan background would be happy over this development because "all Moroccan Jews have an emotional attachment to what used to be their homeland."

Morocco was open to Israeli visitors before the normalization announcement, and Shetreet has led several delegations to Morocco. If there is a rabbi with the delegation, he recites memorial prayers in Hebrew for the King Hassan II who had been visited by both Rabin and Peres and was on good terms with them.

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