Washington: President Donald Trump said Morocco and Israel agreed to establish full diplomatic relations and that he was recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed region of Western Sahara.
The Western Sahara issue was long seen as a sticking point in getting Morocco to join with countries including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in recognizing Israel.
Taken with the earlier agreements, Thursday’s announcement helps bolster Trump’s efforts to reshape the Middle East, easing regional tensions with Israel and focusing more attention on Iran. President-elect Joe Biden has largely praised the diplomatic deals with Israel, while saying Trump’s Mideast policies have undermined U.S. national security, particularly with regard to Iran.
Moroccan King Mohammed VI told Trump that his country will normalize relations as soon as possible, the state news agency MAP reported. The kingdom had low-key ties with Israel between 1994 and 2002.
Morocco will resume official contacts and establish full diplomatic relations as well as grant overflights and direct flights to and from Israel, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law who has led U.S. peace efforts in the region, told reporters on a call. Economic cooperation will also be on the cards.
Western Sahara has been a fraught issue affecting Morocco’s international standing for decades. Morocco has long opposed holding a referendum for the region that offered the option of independence, a choice envisaged by the United Nations when it brokered a 1991 cease-fire pact that largely held until last month.
“The United States recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara territory and reaffirms its 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,” the White House said after Trump tweeted.
Stretching along the Atlantic coast and rich in minerals, Western Sahara is larger than the U.K. and has been bitterly contested since its 1975 annexation by Morocco after the withdrawal of ex-colonial power Spain. Sporadic fighting between Morocco and the rebel group known as the Polisario Front claimed about 9,000 lives over 16 years.
Polisario in November declared the cease-fire over after Moroccan authorities ended a two-week-long demonstration by its supporters at a southern border point that’s Rabat’s main artery for overland trade with West Africa. The group, which receives diplomatic support from neighboring Algeria, has since claimed attacks on Moroccan outposts.
The UN secretary-general’s position on Western Sahara remains unchanged after the U.S. announcement, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters. He’s “convinced that a solution to the question of Western Sahara is possible and that’s in accordance with relevant Security Council resolutions.”
Kushner said the Western Sahara dispute has been outstanding for a long time and there’s been no progress on a resolution. “This step is recognizing the inevitability of what is going to occur,” he said.
U.S. recognition “can possibly break the logjam to help advance the issues in the Western Sahara, where we want the Polisario people to have a better opportunity to live a better life,” he said. “The president felt like this conflict was holding that back as opposed to bringing it forward.”
Israel is home to many Jews of Moroccan descent, and the move may provide a new boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the government wobbles on the brink of collapse with the potential of a fourth election in two years looming.
“This will be a very warm peace,” Netanyahu said Thursday evening in Jerusalem, standing alongside the U.S. ambassador at an event marking the start of the Hanukkah holiday.
“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.”
Asked whether Saudi Arabia might also form official ties with Israel, Kushner said that their “having full normalization at this point is an inevitability,” but the time frame “is something that has to be worked out.”
Saudi Arabia has signaled it may not move forward on ties before there’s progress advancing Palestinian interests.
King Mohammed said that relations with Israel wouldn’t compromise Morocco’s support for Palestinians in efforts to reach a two-state solution, MAP reported. Trump told the monarch that the U.S. would open a consulate in Dakhla, a Western Sahara port city, the agency said.- Bloomberg