Israeli PM Netanyahu in awkward Western Sahara map gaff with Morocco

Israeli PM Netanyahu in awkward Western Sahara map gaff with Morocco
Netanyahu held a map showing Arab countries but failed to highlight Morocco's claim to Western Sahara which Israel expressed support for last year.
3 min read
01 June, 2024
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were forced to issue a clarification to Rabat [GETTY]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday was scrambling to avoid offending Morocco after an awkward blunder in which the premier held a map showing the disputed Western Sahara as an independent state and not part of Morocco.

In an embarrassing gaffe with one of Israel's few Arab allies, Netanyahu was being interviewed on a French television channel aired on Thursday when he held a map showing the Middle East and North Africa region to illustrate Israel's regional threats.

During the interview with news channel LCI, Netanyahu pointed to the map, saying, "Look at the map of the Arab world in green," surrounding tiny Israel.

The map highlighted all Arab countries in green but failed to include the Western Sahara territory as part of Morocco. It triggered a backlash in Moroccan media and prompted Tel Aviv to issue a rapid apology.

Israel's foreign ministry's Arabic spokesperson on Friday offered a clarification and apology to Rabat, describing it as an "unintentional mistake" and a "technical error".

Netanyahu's office then reiterated that Israel recognised Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara as it affirmed to King Mohammed VI in a letter just last year.

It added that "all the official maps" in the prime minister's office have since been corrected.

The Moroccan news website Hiba Press described the incident as a "great controversy".

"Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to provoke the Moroccans once again by appearing with a truncated map of Morocco without the Sahara," it said in an editorial on Thursday.

Morocco claims sovereignty over Western Sahara in a dispute with Algeria that dates to 1975, when colonial ruler Spain withdrew from the territory.

Rabat currently controls nearly 80 percent of Western Sahara and considers the entire area as its sovereign territory. The other 20 percent is controlled by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

In a historic move, Morocco normalised diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020 as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords, which saw the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain also normalise ties.

Despite public opposition, Morocco agreed to normalise ties with Israel in exchange for Washington's public support for Rabat's claim to the mineral-rich Western Sahara territory.

Netanyahu's map gaff increased calls among the Moroccan public for a break in diplomatic ties with Israel, which come against a backdrop of mounting resentment for the government's ties with Israel since it mounted its brutal offensive in Gaza.

Over 110,000 Palestinians have been killed or injured in the war and numerous towns and cities have been destroyed, rendering most of the Strip uninhabitable and leading to an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, including famine.