In a move seen by some as unexpected, Morocco agreed to re-establish diplomatic ties with Israel, becoming the fourth Arab state this year, after the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan, to normalise relations with Israel. The announcement sparked mixed reactions among Moroccan people and related parties.
The agreement includes immediate reopening of liaison offices in Tel Aviv and Rabat, which were closed during the Al-Aqsa Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israel in 2000, with the intention to open embassies later. Officials in Morocco also spoke of the country’s willingness to allow direct flights to and from Israel.
Several Moroccan activists called for popular campaigns denouncing the normalisation agreement and emphasising the centrality of the Palestinian cause.
Social media users also condemned the Morocco-Israel peace agreement, saying that the Moroccan monarchy did not take into account the people’s position in the issue. They affirmed that the Palestinian cause has the same national importance as the Western Sahara dispute.
Western Sahara and Palestine
Last week, US President Donlad Trump announced the recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara, which is a disputed territory on the northwest coast and in the Maghreb region of North and West Africa. This region has witnessed tensions between Morocco and the pro-independence Polisario Front since the 1970s. The Polisario Front has been backed by Algeria for decades. The US is now the first Western country to recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed region.
Morocco’s Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani said, “The main event and the real achievement is the US recognition, as a superpower and an effective member of the Security Council, of Morocco’s full sovereignty over the Moroccan Sahara.”
El Othmani also indicated Washington’s intention to “open a consulate in the city of Dakhla, southern Morocco, to encourage investment in the Moroccan Sahara.”
Commenting on the peace agreement, Aziz Edamin, a Moroccan researcher in international law, said the US was indirectly supporting Morocco in the conflict, as the Congress has for years included the southern Sahara provinces of Morocco as part of America’s support for Morocco. He added that Trump’s decision confirms this support and will help Morocco a lot because Washington has the right of veto in the Security Council and it is the one that drafts the UN resolution on the extension of the powers of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).
As for the normalisation of ties with Israel, Edamin said it was unfortunate, painful decision that hurt the Arab peoples. He described it as the “price that must be paid.”
Meanwhile, Moroccan King Mohammed VI emphasised that the reestablishment of relations with Israel will not affect Morocco’s permanent commitment to support the Palestinian cause. He also stressed his support for the two-state solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict, and the need to preserve the special status of Jerusalem as a holy city for the monotheistic religions.
According to a government statement, King Mohammed VI has phoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and assured him that Morocco sees the Palestinian cause as important as the Moroccan Sahara issue, and that the new seal will not be at the expense of the Palestinian people’s struggle for their legitimate rights.
Meanwhile, Palestinian factions denounced the Moroccan-Israeli normalisation deal, with the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) describing it as a “political sin.” In addition, the Palestine Liberation Organization expressed its rejection to the Moroccan move, which “will increase Israel’s arrogance and denial of the rights of the Palestinian people.”
Regarding the American recognition of the Moroccan claim over Western Sahara, Abi Bachraya Al-Bashir, a representative of the Polisario Front in Europe, expressed his regret over Washington’s decision. He said, “This decision will not change the reality of the conflict and the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination,” adding that the front will continue its struggle.
In Algeria, many media outlets condemned the US announcement, whether the American recognition of Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara or the normalisation of relation between Israel and Morocco.
Moroccan writer Al-Qadi Ayyad wrote in the Morocco Newspaper Assabah, “The historic decision taken by the US to recognise the full and complete sovereignty of Morocco over its Sahara is an unequivocal support for the first cause of the Kingdom. The American recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara introduces a comprehensive change in this fabricated regional conflict. It was provoked and perpetuated by the Algerian regime, which finds itself more isolated than ever before. “
He added, “To embody this gesture of friendship and support for Morocco, the sovereign initiative of the American state to open a consulate in Dakhla, mainly carrying out economic tasks, strengthening the special and strategic relations between Morocco and the United States of America.”
Moroccan economist Rachid Sari said that the decision of the US to open consulates in Dakhla and Laayoune cities in Western Sahara has nothing to do with the normalisation deal with Israel from an economic point of view.
He added the US investment in the region is expected to exceed $2.5bn, of which $1.5bn will be allocated to the Harmattan wind power project in Dakhla. The project would create new jobs for the residents of the region, with 1% of its profits to be directed for the development of the city in the field of education and training.
It is expected that American investments will expand to other areas, especially as the region extends along the Atlantic Ocean. Sari noted the Dakhla Atlantic Port will inevitably become the real gateway for all countries of the world to and from Africa.
He believed that all the southern provinces in Western Sahara, especially Laayoune, would be a real destination for American investments.
With regard to the possibility of Israel injecting investments in the region, the economist believes that it is possible if the normalisation between Morocco and Israel includes an economic side as well.
In the same context, Moroccan economist Hady Al-Saeed said that the US recognition of Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara will open the door for foreign investment in the region.
He also said, “The move by the United States of America to open a consulate in the city of Dakhla comes in line with American solar energy investors’ desire to invest in the region, so Western Sahara would be the starting point of important US projects in Africa.”
Al-Saeed pointed out that the Americans rely on the recent reports of the World Bank regarding the quality of the business climate in the Kingdom of Morocco and the southern regions, especially as Morocco has allocated more than $7bn for infrastructure projects, including roads and ports, in addition to digital and communications projects.
He noted that the Americans follow with great interest the energy cooperation between Nigeria and Morocco, and aim to engage in this partnership, which would enable the US to compete with Chinese companies operating in the region.
On Saturday, main Islamist groups in Morocco rejected Rabat’s plan to normalise relations with Israel.
The Unification and Reform Movement, affiliated to the Justice and Development Party, which leads the coalition government, said in a statement, “The movement stresses its rejection and denouncement of all attempts of normalisation and the Zionist penetration. The Executive Office considers the measures referred to above by Morocco, which chairs the Al-Quds Al-Sharif Committee, an unfortunate development and a rejected step,” according to Reuters.
The statement supported King Mohammed VI’s steps in support of the Palestinian cause, while affirming the “party’s firm stance against the Zionist occupation.”
Moreover, the outlawed Moroccan Justice and Charity Group, one of the largest opposition groups in the country, said that the normalisation agreement was “a stab to the Palestinian cause and a letdown of the Palestinian people.”
Unlike all Arab countries, Morocco has a large Jewish community. Morocco also played a major role, under the reign of King Hassan II who once met with Israel’s former Prime Minister Shimon Peres in person, in pushing for the Oslo agreement between Palestine and Israel. Moreover, Morocco’s contribution in the Arab-Israeli wars was very limited. It also had official contacts with Israel for more than six years until they stopped after the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada.