Morocco's political parties embrace Trump's Western Sahara recognition while staying quiet on Israel 'normalisation quid-pro-quo'

Morocco's political parties embrace Trump's Western Sahara recognition while staying quiet on Israel 'normalisation quid-pro-quo'
President Donald Trump's bombshell announcement that Tel Aviv and Rabat will normalise ties has divided Morocco.
4 min read
11 December, 2020
Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita denied that the move constituted a normalisation with Israel [AFP/Getty]
Moroccan party leaders welcomed the US decision to recognise Rabat's claim over the disputed Western Sahara region on Thursday, The New Arab's Arabic-language service reported, while staying mostly quiet on the country's normalisation of ties with Israel.

US President Donald Trump revealed Thursday that Israel and Morocco would restore diplomatic and other relations, followed by confirmation from Rabat although it avoided using the word 'normalisation'.

As part of the agreement, Trump, whose time in office is winding down, also announced the US recognition of Morocco's claim over Western Sahara, the former Spanish North African territory that has been a long-running dispute that has confounded international negotiators for decades.

Morocco's Prime Minister and leader of the Justice and Development Party, Saadeddine Othmani, said the US move on the disputed region "is a great achievement that will affect the course of the Moroccan Sahara issue in the coming years, if not the coming months".

The Secretary-General of Morocco's Authenticity and Modernity Party Abdul Latif Wehbe said the US position is a "wise thing to do", local media reported, adding that Rabat "had been waiting for this for a long time".

Meanwhile, Morocco's Socialist Union of Popular Forces also appreciated "America's historic decision to clearly and explicitly recognise our national sovereignty over the desert regions and to open a consulate in its territory".

The Secretary General of the Party of Progress and Socialism, Nabil Benabdallah, described Washington's decision as the "historical transformation of the issue of territorial integrity".

'Treacherous normalisation'

But not all Morocco's political players were as enthusiastic. The Secretary of the National Action Group for Palestine condemned the move on Friday, describing it as a "sudden and peculiar move away from Morocco's general position" on the Palestinian issue.

The group, in a statement seen by The New Arab, strongly denounced what it called a scramble towards normalisation.

"We cannot accept the Sahara as a cover to market the position of treacherous normalisation," it said.

Morocco's King Mohammed VI said Thursday evening that these "measures do not in any manner affect Morocco's ongoing and sustained commitment to the just Palestinian cause", according to the royal statement.

He reiterated Rabat's commitment to a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "based on two states living side by side in peace and security".

Morocco's Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said that the resumption of relations with Israel was not in exchange for the recognition of Morocco's sovereignty over the Western Sahara.

Foreign Minister Bourita denied that Morocco's decision to resume contact with Israel constituted a normalisation of ties, saying "there has been a relationship between Morocco and Israel since the 1990s".

Morocco and Israel had respectively maintained liaison offices in their respective capitals in the 1990s, before closing them in 2000.

A senior official at Morocco's foreign ministry also described the breakthrough with Israel as "not... a recognition, but a normalisation, a resumption of relations that existed before", during a briefing in Rabat. 

Social media reacts

The statements of Moroccan officials sparked a backlash online with Twitter users rejecting any justification given for the normalisation of ties

Morocco's move was described as a submission to American blackmail and a failing of the Palestinian cause.

"Do you remember Jamal Al-Durra?" one person tweeted, referring to the iconic photograph of Jamal Al-Durra and his son as they were caught in crossfire between the Israeli military and Palestinian security forces.

"I want Nasser Bourita and [Prime Minister] Othmani to remember this image," the tweet continued. 

"Nasser Bourita is trying to dismiss normalisation by highlighting America's recognition of the Moroccan Sahara first and foremost. He will have succeeded will some Moroccans, unfortunately while the opposite is the truth," another social media user tweeted.

After the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, Morocco is the fourth Arab state since August to commit to establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. 

Morocco, a country with centuries of Jewish history, has long been rumoured to be ready to establish ties with Israel.

Before Israel's establishment in 1948, Morocco was home to a large Jewish population, many of whose ancestors fled to North Africa from Spain and Portugal during the Spanish Inquisition.

Today, hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews trace their lineage to Morocco, making it one of the country’s largest sectors of Israeli society, and a small community of Jews, estimated at several thousand people, continues to live in Morocco.

The North African country has for years had informal ties with Israel.

Israel and Morocco established low-level diplomatic relations during the 1990s following Israel’s interim peace accords with the Palestinians, but those ties were suspended after the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000.

Since then, however, the informal ties have continued, and an estimated 50,000 Israelis travel to Morocco each year on trips to learn about the Jewish community and retrace their family histories.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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