Former Moroccan Islamist Prime Minister denies responsibility for normalisation of ties with Israel

Former Moroccan Islamist Prime Minister denies responsibility for normalisation of ties with Israel
Abdelilah Benkirane said that his Justice and Development Party, which currently holds the Moroccan premiership, did not make the decision to normalise ties with Israel but did not oppose it.
3 min read
19 February, 2021
Abedlilah Benkirane tried to distance the PJD from normalisation with Israel [Getty]

Former Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane said on Thursday night that his Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) was not responsible for normalising ties with Israel, reopening a controversy over the resumption of relations with Tel Aviv.

Benkirane, who was Prime Minister of Morocco between 2011 and 2017, said in a speech broadcast on his Facebook page that the decision to normalise ties with Israel in December 2020 had been taken by the monarch, King Mohammed VI, in line with the country’s best interests.

Benkirane attempted to quell criticism that the PJD, which espouses a moderate Islamist ideology, was responsible for Morocco's normalisation of ties with Israel in December 2020.

Last year the administration of former President Donald Trump brokered pledges by four Arab states to normalise relations with Israel, using a mixture of pressure and incentives.

Trump handed Morocco’s monarch a long-demanded prize - US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the long-disputed Western Sahara territory.

Read also: Euphoria of Morocco's Arab Spring has fizzled out

Under the government of current Prime Minister Saadeddine Othmani, who succeeded Benkirane at the helm of the PJD, Morocco established full diplomatic and trade relations with Israel and greenlighted direct flights between Tel Aviv and Rabat.

Benkirane said in his speech on Thursday that Mohammed VI’s decision concerning Israel had been for the good of the country and that the people “can only be with him and not against him."

The former prime minister said in the live broadcast that he received a call from Othmani and one from Fouad Ali El Himma, an advisor to King Mohammed VI, shortly before the agreement was signed.

Ali El Himma confirmed that the Moroccan monarch had not changed views and wished to go ahead with the deal.

As Morocco finalised the deal, demonstrators gathered in front of the parliament building in a show of solidarity with Palestinians.

The agreement also sparked turmoil within the PJD itself. Some members of the Islamist party went as far as calling for a freeze on Othmani’s membership following what they regarded as a violation of the party’s principles.

Benkirane castigated Othmani's critics as “traitors” who did not realise that their action would lead them to “lose their brothers.”

"They have the right to criticize Morocco,” he continued, “but they do not have the right to slander it.”

Benkirane also paid tribute to the Palestinians and their cause but added that the Moroccan state had to make a sacrifice in order to solve its “problem” in Western Sahara. 

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