Israel, Morocco to solidify normalisation with opening of embassies 'soon'

Israel, Morocco to solidify normalisation with opening of embassies 'soon'
Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Tel Aviv and Rabat will open embassies in the coming months, solidifying a controversial move to normalise ties between the two countries.
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Lapid made his first trip to Morocco this week [Getty]

Israel and Morocco have agreed to open embassies soon, the Jewish state's foreign minister announced on Thursday, at the end of his first visit since the two countries normalised ties.

"This morning we decided with (Moroccan Foreign) Minister Nasser Bourita that we are going to open full embassies in Jerusalem and in Morocco during a couple months," Yair Lapid told a news conference in commercial capital Casablanca.

In December, Morocco became the fourth Arab country in 2020 to establish ties with Israel after the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

A liaison office for Israel in Morocco was opened earlier on Thursday in the capital Rabat, on the sidelines of Lapid's visit to the North African country.

Lapid welcomed normalisation accords with Arab states, and said others will follow, without giving names.

He also announced the imminent opening of an Israeli embassy in Bahrain.

On Israeli-Palestinian ties, Lapid reaffirmed his support for the creation of two states to resolve the conflict, but not under current conditions.

"I support the two-state solution. Right now there is no feasible possibility to move forward with the current Palestinian leadership and the divisions between Hamas and PA, and the structure of the Israeli government," Lapid said.

The Islamist Hamas group rules the Gaza Strip enclave while the Palestinian Authority holds sway in the occupied West Bank.

Bourita on Wednesday raised the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Lapid, and underlined the need for new negotiations to reach "a solution based on two states living side by side on the 1967 borders".

Last year's normalisation of relations with Israel by the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan was seen by Palestinians as a betrayal of their cause.

The Israeli foreign minister also said he and Bourita discussed shared "worries about the role played by Algeria in the region".

Low key ceremony

Lapid said his concerns were based on fears Algeria was "getting close to Iran", as well as "the campaign it waged against the admission of Israel as an observer member of the African Union".

The liaison office was inaugurated in a low-key ceremony in Rabat on Thursday morning, in the presence of Morocco's minister for African affairs, Mohcine Jazouli.

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Lapid tweeted that a mezuzah - a case containing a parchment with passages from the Torah - was hung at the entrance to Israel's new diplomatic office.

He also said he had delivered a letter from President Isaac Herzog inviting King Mohammed VI to visit Israel.

At the end of 2020, Israel's former premier Benjamin Netanyahu had also invited the monarch to visit, but no official response to the invitation was forthcoming.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Lapid's trip "significant for Israel, Morocco, and the broader region".

The American embassy in Rabat said ties between the two countries generated "real benefits" for both sides, including direct commercial flights and economic cooperation.

On Wednesday, Israel and Morocco signed accords on political consultations, aviation and culture.

In Casablanca Lapid visited the city's Beth-El synagogue.

Morocco hosts the Arab world's largest Jewish community of some 3,000 people, the remnant of a once much larger community. Some 700,000 Jews of Moroccan descent live in Israel.

Morocco and Israel maintained liaison offices in the 1990s, before closing them during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, that raged from 2000 to 2005.