Israel and Morocco agreed on Thursday to normalize relations in a US-backed agreement, making Morocco the fourth Arab country to end hostilities with Israel in the past four months.
As part of the agreement, US President Donald Trump changed US long-term policy and recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara.
Western Sahara is a desert region where a decades-old territorial dispute has pitted Morocco against the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, a pioneering movement seeking to establish an independent state in the territory.
Trump sealed the deal in a telephone conversation with Moroccan King Mohammed VI on Thursday, the White House said.
“Another HISTORICAL breakthrough today! Our two GREAT friends Israel and the Kingdom of Morocco have agreed on full diplomatic relations – a massive breakthrough for peace in the Middle East!” Trump tweeted.
Morocco is the fourth country since August to conclude an agreement aimed at normalizing relations with Israel. The others were the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.
Much of the driving force behind the deal has been to present a united front against Iran and restore its regional influence.
Palestinians have been critical of the normalization agreements, saying that Arab countries have put back the peace issue by abandoning a long-standing demand that Israel give up land for a Palestinian state before it can be recognized.
With Trump on his way to office on January 20, the Morocco deal could be among the last his team, led by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and US envoy Avi Berkowitz, will negotiate before bowing to President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming government.
Kushner told reporters at a conference call that it was inevitable that Saudi Arabia would eventually reach a similar agreement with Israel.
Complete diplomatic relations
Under the agreement, Morocco will establish full diplomatic relations and resume official contacts with Israel, grant flights over its territory and even direct flights to and from Israel for all Israelis.
“They will immediately open their contact offices in Rabat and Tel Aviv immediately with the intention of opening embassies. And they will promote economic cooperation between Israeli and Moroccan companies,” Kushner told Reuters.
Trump’s agreement to change US policy towards Western Sahara was the basis for getting Morocco’s agreement and a major shift from a mostly neutral stance.
In Rabat, the Royal Court of Morocco said that Washington will open a consulate in Western Sahara as part of Morocco’s deal with Israel.
A White House proclamation said the United States believed that an independent Sahrawi state was not “a realistic option for resolving the conflict and that genuine autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty is the only possible solution”.
“We urge the parties to participate without delay in discussions with Morocco’s autonomy plan as the only framework for negotiating a mutually acceptable solution,” it said.
Washington had supported a 1991 ceasefire between Morocco and Western Sahara’s independence movement Polisario Front that demanded a referendum to solve the problem. Last month, after a border incident, Polisario withdrew the agreement and announced that he was returning to armed struggle.
Trump’s White House has tried to get Saudi Arabia to sign a normalization agreement with Israel, in the belief that the Saudis agreed that other Arab nations would follow, but the Saudis have announced that they are not ready.
A further breakthrough in the Middle East is possible. Last week, Kushner and his team traveled to Saudi Arabia and Qatar to end a three-year gap between Doha and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
A preliminary agreement has been reached on this front, but it was far from clear whether a final agreement to end a blockade of Qatar will be sealed. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have maintained a diplomatic trade and travel bargo against Qatar since mid-2017.
While Biden is expected to move US foreign policy away from Trump’s “America First” position, he has announced that he will continue the pursuit of what Trump calls the “Abraham agreements” between Israel and Arab and Muslim countries.
The news came when Jews marked the first night of the Hanukkah festival.
( Jowharwith REUTERS)