Israel normalises ties with Morocco
Dec 15, 2020 | AIJAC staff
Update from AIJAC
Last Thursday, the White House announced that Morocco and Israel had agreed to establish fully normalised diplomatic relations – following on from Israel’s normalisation of ties earlier this year with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan. This Update is devoted to exploring the background and implications of this development.
We lead with Jason Issacson, Chief Policy Officer of the American Jewish Committee, who looks at both the wider diplomatic implications and at his own experiences with Jewish diplomatic outreach in Morocco. He notes the very rich Jewish history of Morocco, and the very positive record of the Moroccan monarchy in fostering good relations with the country’s Jewish community. Isaacson notes both the great potential for Moroccan-Israeli cooperation he has witnessed when visiting Morocco, and the historic opportunity the Moroccan King has opened up for himself to help advance the cause of two-state Israel-Palestinian peace. For all the details of Isaacson’s observations, CLICK HERE.
Next up is an interview with top Israeli commentator and journalist Ehud Yaari, who actually predicted Israeli normalisation with Morocco at an AIJAC webinar last month. He discusses the regional background to the Moroccan decision, what countries might be next, and also the low key Palestinian reaction to it. He reveals the changing Palestinian perspective on Arab normalisations with Israel, and also suggests how the incoming Biden Administration in the US could use this to broker a new Israeli-Palestinian agreement. For all Yaari’s insights, based on his unparalleled contacts across the region, CLICK HERE.
Finally, the Update offers a Moroccan perspective on the normalisation – that of Dr. Ahmed Charai, a Moroccan publisher who has long been involved in outreach to Israel. Charai says the normalisation is a true turning point in regional affairs, pays tribute to White House advisor Jared Kushner for helping bring it about and also recalls Morocco’s long history of behind-the-scenes efforts to facilitate Israeli-Arab peacemaking. He also gives a Moroccan perspective on the most controversial part of the normalisation deal – US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara. For Dr. Charai’s complete discussion of all these elements of the deal, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in…
- More Moroccan views on normalisation with Israel come from Jewish advisor to King Mohammed André Azoulay, and from Moroccan journalist Oussi Mouh Lahcen.
- Some other views on the potential benefits come from American columnist David Suissa and from a collection of Israeli experts interviewed by reporter Abigail Klein Leichman.
- A piece on the reaction of Israel’s large community of Jews of Moroccan descent to normalisation.
- A report that, as part of normalisation, Moroccan schools are going to teach Jewish history and culture.
- Israel has also just announced the establishment of full diplomatic relations with the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. An older article on the history and prospects of Israel-Bhutan relations is here.
- An interview with US envoy on Iran Elliott Abrams, discussing Iran policy under Trump, and where it can and should go under Biden.
- Famous legal scholar Alan Dershowitz discusses the legality and morality of the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist and senior military officer Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
- American Jewish Committee head David Harris takes the Europeans to task for blind spots in their battle against antisemitism – especially regarding Israel.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- AIJAC’s media release on Israel-Moroccan normalisation.
- AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro, writing in the Canberra Times, explaining why we are currently in a “pivotal moment for addressing the Iranian nuclear threat.”
- Naomi’s Levin’s review of how Israel fared in 2020.
- AIJAC’s statement on Monash Health’s handling of an antisemitic incident involving an employee.
The Morocco-Israel breakthrough: Let the game-changing begin
With a relationship that goes all the way to the civilizational level, this agreement is nothing short of momentous
Times of Israel, DEC 13, 2020
The announcement by King Mohammed VI that Morocco would establish diplomatic relations with Israel, the fourth decision by an Arab government in as many months to normalize ties with the Jewish state, is more than a foreign policy victory for the outgoing Trump administration, although it is surely that.
It is a breakthrough of historic significance on multiple levels.
The Arab country with the oldest and largest Jewish community – as well as the largest Jewish diaspora – has opted for political and economic ties with the Jewish state, itself home to some 1 million Jews of Moroccan descent.
America’s oldest ally in the region is reopening relations with America’s closest ally.
The oldest continuous monarchy in the Arab world, the Alaouite dynasty, is linking its destiny with the Middle East’s one parliamentary democracy.
And King Mohammed VI, chair of the Al-Quds Committee of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, is reaching out in a gesture of peace to Israel, long the target of that committee’s political advocacy.
In this season of Middle East game-changers, there is something uniquely satisfying in the news that Morocco and Israel, which enjoyed public but low-level relations in the mid-to-late 1990s, will return to and then move beyond those ties.
That something is civilizational, for Morocco and the Jewish people have been bound together, and have shaped each other, for millennia. To acknowledge that central fact of Moroccan identity, the drafters of the kingdom’s new constitution in 2011 included a reference to the country’s Jewish (literally, “Hebraic”) roots – the only citation of its kind in the Arab world. In fact, it is likely the only such reference in any national constitution.
To travel across Morocco is to traverse and revisit Jewish history.
It is to step into the world of the Berber Jews, who thrived in the Atlas Mountains in the centuries before Christianity and Islam reached North Africa. It is to marvel at the ancient Ibn Danan Synagogue in Fez and the beautifully restored Slat al-Fassiyin Synagogue in the same city; to feel the painful loss of a once-vibrant community when visiting Meknes; to see faith in the community’s perseverance revived in museums and active synagogues in Tangier, the lively Mellah in Marrakech, and of course, Casablanca, where the majority of the country’s Jews now reside.
It is to spend a weekend at the Atlantic Andalusia Festival in Essaouira, celebrating Judeo-Arab musical traditions with performers from Israel and across the Mediterranean basin, studying this coastal city’s proud Jewish history at the House of Memory, Bayt Dakira, and seeing interfaith dialogue and cooperation come to life in Essaouira’s Jewish native son, André Azoulay, adviser to the King and to the late King Hassan II before him.
It is to trod the uniform aisles of the refurbished Jewish cemeteries of dozens of Moroccan cities – a mammoth project financed by the Palace and managed by the Secretary-General of the Conseil de la Communauté Israelite du Maroc, Ambassador Serge Berdugo, a former Minister of Tourism – and to learn from Ambassador Berdugo about the King’s support for even more ambitious restorations of synagogues and other sites, many of them no longer of use to the country’s diminished Jewish population.
A ceremony in New York in 2015 to honour the late Moroccan King Mohammed V for his role in saving the Moroccan Jewish community from the Nazis. Morocco was represented by Princess Lalla Hasna, granddaughter of Mohammed V and sister to the current king, Mohammed VI (centre).
It is to hear of the protection of the country’s hundreds of thousands of Jews during World War II by then-Sultan-Mohammed V, grandfather of the current monarch, from the antisemitic laws of the Vichy French occupation. “There are no Jews in Morocco,” he told the Nazi collaborators. “There are only Moroccan subjects.”
It is also, of course, to hear of the deadly riots in a number of Moroccan cities after Israel’s establishment, and the thousands of Jews who fled in 1948-49, and then again in response to other Arab-Israeli wars in the decades hence.
It is to audit a Hebrew class at the well-appointed Narcisse Leven, a Jewish day school in Casablanca, for students who are mostly Muslim, or to be given the opportunity to lecture future religious leaders at the Imam Academy in Rabat on the similarities between Judaism and Islam.
AJC colleagues and I have been privileged to have all of these experiences in repeated visits to Morocco over the last 25 years. Again and again, we have been struck by the country’s vitality and resiliency; again and again, we have seen, and encouraged the realization of, the potential of Moroccan-Israeli cooperation.
In announcing his momentous decision to the Moroccan people, King Mohammed emphasized his commitment to “the just Palestinian cause,” a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the preservation of “the special status” of Jerusalem. He also spoke of “the special ties that unite the Jewish community of Moroccan origin, including in Israel,” to the Moroccan sovereign. What he did not say directly, but what is widely understood, is that this monarch – the so-called Commander of the Faithful, responsible for the welfare of all believers in his realm – has now, by engaging Israel, afforded himself unique influence to advance the causes he champions.
If he assumes this responsibility with the same sensitivity that has characterized his ministration of his country’s Jewish community and heritage, all the region’s people will owe him their gratitude. The season of game-changing may be just beginning.
Jason Isaacson is Chief Policy and Political Affairs Officer of the American Jewish Committee
Palestinian Authority Gives Up, Won’t Fight Against Israeli Peace with Arab States
By David Israel
Jewish Press, December 13, 2020
Senior Israel news commentator and journalist Ehud Yaari: “like a row of domino tiles, the Arab states, each in its own way, not all in the same mould, will start normalization with Israel”
Instead of fighting a losing battle against Middle East normalization, the Palestinian Authority now hopes to mobilize the new friendly-with-Israel Arab states to pressure concessions from Israel.
Ehud Yaari, a senior news commentator on Arab affairs on News 12, told Erel Segal and Yariv Oppenheimer (of Peace Now fame) on 103FM Sunday morning that Israel’s latest normalization agreements with Morocco and Bhutan represent the collapse of the isolation and boycott wall and the crashing of the veto power that the Palestinians have held for the past 70 years.
Yaari, 75, has been reporting and commenting on Middle East affairs since 1969, spent long stints in Egypt and Lebanon, and was Channel one’s correspondent in Washington, DC. He has interviewed Yasser Arafat, King Hussein of Jordan and his son Abdullah, President Husni Mubarak of Egypt, almost every Israeli prime minister since Menachem Begin (including Yitzhak Rabin), Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Lebanon’s Bachir Gemayel, and Libya’s Muammar al-Gaddafi. A vociferous opponent of the Oslo Accords, Yaari is Senior Fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies.
Asked how significant is the agreement with Morocco, the senior commentator said, “I think it can be seen that like a row of domino tiles, the Arab states, each in its own way, not all in the same mold, will start normalization with Israel, and Morocco chooses to do so in two stages. The first stage is liaison offices, trade centers, and direct flights. Step Two, after Biden approves the annexation of the Sahara, there will be embassies, and other countries will follow a similar path.”
“Oman, in my estimation, will be next, Qatar is also already vacillating,” Yaari continued. “What we’re seeing is the collapse of the Arab wall of refusal to forge ties with Israel, a wall of isolation and boycotts, we’re seeing the crashing of the veto that the Palestinians held for 70 years over the Arab world’s ties with Israel. As one major in Middle Eastern newspaper put it today, the Palestinian issue is nostalgia, but nostalgia is not policy, and the Palestinians understand it.”
The normalization process has not been exactly a show of great love – what is actually going on here?
Ehud Yaari predicted Morocco would be the next country to normalise relations with Israel at an AIJAC webinar last month.
“In every agreement, always, even when we signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan years ago, and in some ways in the Oslo accords, too, there’s always been an American aspect to the agreement. The Arab state always wants not only Israel but also something from the United States,” he said, explaining, “There’s no big news here, either. Morocco has been vying for 45 years for recognition of its ownership of occupied Western Sahara and has failed, and now it has achieved it. Sudan for its part wants to be taken off the terrorist state’s list, and the emirates wanted other things.”
“Also, beyond the fact that they want something from the Americans, they want things from Israel,” Yaari pointed out. “A country like Sudan wants Israeli aid, Israeli know-how, to modernize its agriculture which has enormous potential. The Moroccans have a different approach. Historical. For many centuries, the Jewish of Morocco has been part of the national heritage, it is not something foreign that’s separated or divided.”
As to the impact of the changing occupants at the White House on these agreements and the ones that are yet to follow, Yaari believes “these agreements will stand long after Trump and Bibi, and I would not describe these peace agreements with Arab countries as a negligible thing that can be overlooked.” But above all else, he said, “in the Palestinian Authority from Mahmoud Abbas down, a dramatic decision has been made that has not yet been announced, and that is – not to stand in the way of peace agreements between Arab countries and Israel.”
He added: “They realized they could not stop it, it’s impossible to fight it, and they have to adapt to it. Now—and what I’m saying is authoritative—they want to mobilize the countries that are normalizing with Israel. This is why al-Sisi invites Bibi to renegotiate and look for a format for an arrangement that is not a permanent arrangement, not one that ends the conflict but an arrangement that changes the face of reality, of life on the ground, supported by precisely the Arab states that have established ties with Israel. It’s a revolution.”
The main question is, according to Yaari, “Will the Biden administration try again to pursue a permanent settlement? Because the Palestinians by no means want a permanent settlement. They definitely don’t want a permanent agreement that means a tiny Palestinian state on the Judaean hills, it does not interest them.”
Yaari believes that the Biden administration stands a chance of winning in the region if they would go “something that’s a large, broad, generous interim arrangement that changes reality but does not resolve the conflict – this has a chance.” But he adds: “It also depends on which government we will have.”
The makings of a true Israeli-Arab friendship
The new Middle East that has emerged since the Arab Spring is a region that is more divided on the one hand, while showing increased interest for rapprochement with Israel on the other hand.
By Dr. Ahmed Charai
Israel Hayom, Dec. 13, 2020
Moroccan King Mohammed VI (center) chats with Jared Kushner, senior adviser to US President Donald Trump (left) at an Iftar meal in May, 2019. Kushner was reportedly key to the new normalisation deal with Israel. (Credits: Moroccan Royal Palace, via AP)
The new Middle East that has emerged since the Arab Spring, the rise and fall of Islamic State – as well as the rise of Iran’s role in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen – is a region that is more divided and also one where openness to Israel has increased among Arab states.
Israel and Morocco agreed to normalize relations, US President Trump and King Mohammed VI of Morocco said Thursday. “This will be a very warm peace,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday, adding that Israel and Morocco would quickly set up liaison offices and introduce direct flights between the two countries.
The historic announcement marks a true turning point in Middle East affairs.
Count me among many Arabs who have long believed that the peace between Arabs and Israel through full normalization deserves a chance – albeit one of the few who says so publicly. I have held this view to the surprise of many American, Israeli, and Palestinian friends.
Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner has been key to pushing the peace deals. Kushner’s years of patient and quiet behind-the-scenes negotiation paid off. Tossing out the tired scripts of past talks, he listened, he learned, he summarized to show his understanding, and he asked fresh questions.
Kushner succeeded in getting his vision adopted.
Israeli observers of a certain age will recall the statesmanship of the present king’s late father, Hassan II, who worked tirelessly to foster rapprochement between Israel and its neighbors, including the Palestinians. He did so privately as well as publicly – on the one hand, facilitating every major initiative from Camp David to Oslo behind the scenes; King Hassan II is considered the main architect of the first peace agreement between Egypt and israel.
King Mohammed VI maintains the same commitment to advancing Israeli-Arab rapprochement – and the same willingness to do so discreetly.
The Arab world has never been monolithic. Other Arab states may probably follow countries that do not border Israel are not directly affected by the plight of they Palestinian people, other than by considerations of international law, charity and mercy. Without the unity of the Arab world supporting a stalemate that has dragged on for half a century, the Palestinians will have to readjust their strategies.
Israel, too, may change. Trade, the peaceful exchange of goods and ideas, may forge new connections among the young and ambitious, on both sides of the Arab-Jewish divide. In time, the bitterness of the old may be replaced by the hopefulness of the young.
On a very important subject for Moroccans, and in an unprecedented move, Trump recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over Sahara provinces.
Morocco’s serious, credible and realistic autonomy proposal is the only basis for a just and lasting solution for enduring peace and prosperity!”President’s Trump said in a Tweet. “Morocco recognized the United States in 1777. It is thus fitting we recognize their sovereignty over the Sahara.”
The White House released a statement formally proclaiming the recognition of Morocco’s territorial claim over the Sahara.
“Now, therefore, I, Donald J Trump, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim that the United States recognizes that the entire Western Sahara territory is part of the Kingdom of Morocco.”
The US-brokered deal included US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara region, which Morocco controversially annexed in 1975.
The vast majority of Moroccans really do stand behind the monarchy in that regard. The separatist movement, often known as the Polisario, jeopardizes peace and security in the whole region, rendering it a breeding ground for terrorism. This is an issue that’s been out there for a long time, and there’s just been no progress on a resolution. As part of the recognition agreement, the United States diplomatic mission to Morocco will open a consulate in Dakhla, a city in the south Sahara.
By recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over an area where Morocco engaged a hundred of billions of dollars of investments for the Sahraoui population could possibly break the logjam.
In that, the agreement between Morocco and Israel should be praised for being truly game-changing, laying the groundwork for genuine Israeli-Arab friendship, and signifying the long-awaited acknowledgment of each other’s humanity.
Dr. Ahmed Charai is a Moroccan publisher. He sits on the board of the Atlantic Council and is a member of the global board of advisers of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.