Morocco signs 'normalisation' agreement with Israel in ceremony attended by king

Morocco signs 'normalisation' agreement with Israel in ceremony attended by king
A normalisation agreement between Israel and Morocco was signed in the presence of the king as well as an Israeli delegation headed by Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
4 min read
23 December, 2020
The agreement was signed at the royal palace in Rabat [Getty]
Morocco formally signed a normalisation agreement with Israel during a visit to the presidential palace by an Israeli delegation on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani signed the declaration in the presence of King Mohammed VI, who announced the resumption of ties with the occupying state.

US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser, Jared Kushner and Israel’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabat were also among the attendees at the signing ceremony in the Moroccan capital on Tuesday evening.

In a press conference with Kushner, Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said his country intends on opening a liaison office with Israel within the next two weeks. Morocco closed its liaison office in Tel Aviv in 2000, at the start of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.  

Morocco agree with the US and Israel to “fully adhere to, promote and defend the element contained in this declaration,” Bourita said.

“The agreement stipulates that each party should fully implement its obligations and define further steps before the end of January,” he added, noting it also included the immediate resumption of contact between Israeli officials and their Moroccan counterparts.

A report by state news agency MAP, confirmed the measures include “the granting of authorisation to Israeli airline companies to carry members of the Moroccan Jewish community and Israeli tourists to Morocco, the full resumption of diplomatic and official contacts and relations with Israel at the appropriate level, the promotion of dynamic, innovative bilateral economic cooperation, as well as measures for the re-opening of liaison offices in Rabat and Tel Aviv”.

Activists took to social media to denounce the agreement as contradictory, referencing a 25-year-old op-ed by El Othmani who at the time slammed normalisation as "genocide".

The signing came just hours after the delegation landed in Rabat onboard the first direct commercial flight between Israel and Morocco on Tuesday.

The landing, shown live online by the US embassy in Rabat, came 10 days after the US-brokered resumption of Israel-Morocco relations in return for Washington's backing of Morocco's contested sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

The trip aimed to showcase the achievements of the Trump administration in Middle East diplomacy, weeks before Trump is replaced at the White House by President-elect Joe Biden.

Morocco became the third Arab state this year, after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, to normalise ties with Israel under US-brokered deals, while Sudan has pledged to follow suit.

As part of the Morocco-Israel deal, Trump fulfilled a decades-old goal of Morocco by backing its contested sovereignty in Western Sahara.

The move infuriated the Algerian-backed pro-independence Polisario Front, which controls about one fifth of the desert territory that was once a Spanish colony.

Negotiations leading to Morocco's resumption of ties with Israel included pledges to open a US consulate in Western Sahara, and for US investment which Moroccan media described as “colossal".

King Mohammed VI has said Morocco will remain an advocate for the Palestinians.

But the Palestinians - like the Polisario - have cried foul and condemned the normalisation announcement between Rabat and the Jewish state.

'Shared history'

Morocco has sought to temper the anger by insisting that relations with Israel are not new.

"The new agreement is merely the formalisation of a de facto partnership between Morocco and Israel dating back 60 years," said Moroccan media boss Ahmed Charai.

Writing in the Jerusalem Post, he has pointed to a "shared history", adding that he was "overcome with pride and gratitude" when the deal was announced.

"The two states have assisted each other vitally for decades," Charai wrote, pointing to security cooperation that helped Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and "quiet Moroccan diplomacy" that helped foster peace between Egypt and Israel.

Morocco is home to North Africa's largest Jewish community, which dates back to ancient times and grew with the arrival of Jews expelled from Spain by Catholic kings from 1492.

It reached about 250,000 in the late 1940s, 10 percent of the national population, but many Jews left after the creation of Israel in 1948.

Read also: Morocco's normalisation trade-off: Western Sahara for Palestine

About 3,000 Jews remain in Morocco while Israel is home to 700,000 Jews of Moroccan origin.

Although bilateral ties were suspended in 2000, trade has continued and amounted to $149 million between 2014 and 2017, according to Moroccan newspapers.

The normalisation deals came amid condemnation from Palestinians who pointed out that the Arab states involved were offering normal diplomatic and cultural ties to Israel, despite it illegally occupying Palestinian land in the West Bank and besieging the Gaza Strip.

Public opinion surveys in the Arab world have shown overwhelming popular disapproval of the normalisation deals.

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