Israel and Morocco agreed on Thursday to normalize relations in a deal brokered with the help of the United States, making Morocco the fourth Arab country to set aside hostilities with Israel in the past four months.
As part of the agreement, U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara, where there has been a decades-old territorial dispute with Morocco pitted against the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, a breakaway movement that seeks to establish an independent state in the territory.
Trump sealed the agreement in a phone call on Thursday with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, the senior U.S. official said.
At the Kosel for candle-lighting on the first night of Hanukkah, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hailed the achievement, saying:
“I’ve always believed that this historic day would come, I’ve always worked for it. I want to first thank President Trump for his extraordinary efforts to expand peace, to bring peace to Israel and the peoples of the Middle East.
“President Trump, the people of Israel and the State of Israel will be forever indebted to you for your magnificent efforts on our behalf. I want to thank, too, the King of Morocco, King Mohammed VI, for taking this historic decision to bring a historic peace between us. The people of Morocco and the Jewish people have had a warm relationship in the modern period. Everybody knows the tremendous friendship shown by the kings of Morocco and the people of Morocco to the Jewish community there. And hundreds of thousands of these Moroccan Jews came to Israel, and they form a human bridge between our two countries and our two peoples, of sympathy respect, of fondness and love.
“This will be a very warm peace. Peace has never – the light of peace on this Hanukkah day has never – shone brighter than today in the Middle East.”
Morocco’s Foreign Ministry has not yet commented, but retweeted President Trump’s tweets on the normalization.
Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner said that Israel and Morocco will allow direct flights between them and move quickly to establish full diplomatic ties.
“They are going reopen their liaison offices in Rabat and Tel Aviv immediately with the intention to open embassies. And they are going to promote economic cooperation between Israeli and Moroccan companies,” he’s quoted saying.
Morocco is the fourth country since August to strike a deal aimed at normalizing relations with Israel. The others were the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.
Under the agreement, Morocco will establish full diplomatic relations and resume official contacts with Israel, grant overflights and also direct flights to and from Israel for all Israelis.
“They are going reopen their liaison offices in Rabat and Tel Aviv immediately with the intention to open embassies. And they are going to promote economic cooperation between Israeli and Moroccan companies,” White House senior adviser Jared Kushner told Reuters.
“Today the administration has achieved another historic milestone. President Trump has brokered a peace agreement between Morocco and Israel – the fourth such agreement between Israel and an Arab/Muslim nation in four months.
“Through this historic step, Morocco is building on its longstanding bond with the Moroccan Jewish community living in Morocco and throughout the world, including in Israel. This is a significant step forward for the people of Israel and Morocco.
“It further enhances Israel’s security, while creating opportunities for Morocco and Israel to deepen their economic ties and improve the lives of their people.”
A White House statement on the phone call between Trump and the king of Morocco said Trump “reaffirmed his support for Morocco’s serious, credible, and realistic autonomy proposal as the only basis for a just and lasting solution to the dispute over the Western Sahara territory.”
“And as such the president recognized Moroccan sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara territory,” the statement said.
Moroccan King Mohammmed told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a phone call on Thursday that Rabat stands by a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a royal court statement said.
The king added that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are the only way to reach a final, lasting and comprehensive solution to the conflict.
Palestinians have been critical of the normalization deals, saying Arab countries have set back the cause of peace by abandoning a longstanding demand that Israel give up land for a Palestinian state before it can receive recognition.
With Trump to leave office on Jan. 20, the Morocco deal could be among the last his team, led by Kushner and U.S. envoy Avi Berkowitz, is able to negotiate before they give way to President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration.
Much of the momentum behind the deal-making has been to present a united front against Iran and roll back its regional influence.
The Trump White House has tried to get Saudi Arabia to sign on to a normalization deal with Israel, believing if the Saudis agreed other Arab nations would follow, but the Saudis have signaled they are not ready.
One more Middle East breakthrough is possible. Last week Kushner and his team traveled to Saudi Arabia and Qatar seeking an end to a three-year rift between Doha and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
A tentative deal has been reached on this front but it was far from clear whether a final agreement to end a blockade of Qatar will be sealed. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have maintained a diplomatic, trade and travel embargo on Qatar since mid-2017.
While Biden is expected to move U.S. foreign policy away from Trump’s “America First” posture, he has indicated he will continue the pursuit of what Trump calls “the Abraham Accords” between Israel and Arab and Muslim nations.
Updated Thursday, December 10, 2020 at 12:19 pm .