forging ties

Morocco and Israel to normalize relations following Trump administration efforts

Morocco is the fourth Arab nation to normalize ties with the Jewish state in recent months

Benjamin Netanyahu

The Kingdom of Morocco became the fourth Arab country to normalize relations with Israel in less than four months on Thursday in a deal brokered by the outgoing Trump administration. 

The announcement — by tweet — followed a phone call between President Donald Trump and Moroccan King Mohammed VI. The White House said that as part of the agreement, Morocco will establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. The North African nation will also grant overflight permissions and allow Israelis to travel on direct flights between Israel and Morocco. The two countries plan to reopen liaison offices in Rabat and Tel Aviv immediately — after shutting them down at the start of the Second Intifada in 2000 — with the intention to open official embassies “in the near future,” White House senior advisor Jared Kushner said in a press call Thursday. 

“This is something that’s been talked about for a long time but something that seemed inevitable at this point,” Kushner said. “It’s something that we think advances the region and helps bring more clarity to where things are going.” 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the agreement an “historic” development during an menorah lighting ceremony at the Western Wall alongside U.S. Ambassador David Friedman. Netanyahu thanked the president for “his extraordinary efforts” to bring peace to the Middle East. “President Trump, the people of Israel in the State of Israel will be forever indebted to you for your magnificent efforts on our behalf,” he said. 

Morocco’s Royal Court said the United States will open a consulate in the Western Sahara as part of its deal to secure U.S. recognition for Moroccan sovereignty over the territory.

Shimrit Meir, an Israeli analyst and commentator, suggested the deal might motivate Saudi Arabia to enter into a normalization agreement with Israel. The normalization agreement signed in September between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain “is proving to be a huge success that allowed more countries to join in,” Meir told JI. “Morocco, like the United Arab Emirates, is very close to Saudi Arabia. It signals that we might be getting there.” 

Kushner expressed hope that open relations between Jerusalem and Riyadh are on the horizon. “Israel and Saudi Arabia coming together and having full normalizations to this point is an inevitability, but the timeframe, obviously will come,” Kushner told reporters. “It is something that has to be worked out, but, obviously, you need strong U.S. leadership in the region in order to achieve that.” 

Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, posited that the accord with Rabat came in place of a more grandiose deal with Riyadh. “The Trump administration couldn’t produce the main course — Saudi normalization — so they settled for an appetizer,” Miller told JI. 

Netanyahu, who had encouraged the administration to pursue this track in recent years, was only briefed about a possible breakthrough with Morocco in recent weeks, Walla News! diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid reported

The Israeli leader didn’t brief his partners, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Froeign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, about the ongoing developments. The pair learned of the pending deal from the White House on Wednesday, according to Israeli media reports. 

The White House and Biden transition representatives did not immediately respond to an inquiry whether President-elect Joe Biden was notified of the agreement ahead of Trump’s announcement.  

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro told JI that the agreement is a “very welcome” development that builds on “what has long been one of the warmest unofficial relationships Israel has had with an Arab state.” 

Shapiro, who is currently a distinguished visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, added that it will be celebrated in particular by the vast number of Israelis of Moroccan descent, who “will now be able to visit even more easily, on direct flights, in large numbers.” In that way, Meir suggested, Netanyahu stands to benefit politically.

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered daily in a must-read newsletter.