Morocco and Israel strike a deal to normalise relations

US-backed deal will see US recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara

Israel and Morocco agreed on Thursday to normalise relations in a deal brokered with US help, making Morocco the fourth Arab country to set aside hostilities with Israel in the past four months.

As part of the agreement, US president Donald Trump changed long-standing US policy and recognised Morocco's sovereignty over the Western Sahara.

The Western Sahara is a desert region where a decades-old territorial dispute has pitted Morocco against the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, a breakaway movement that seeks to establish an independent state in the territory.

Mr Trump sealed the agreement in a phone call with Morocco's King Mohammed VI on Thursday, the White House said.

“Another HISTORIC breakthrough today! Our two GREAT friends Israel and the Kingdom of Morocco have agreed to full diplomatic relations – a massive breakthrough for peace in the Middle East!” Mr Trump tweeted.

Morocco is the fourth country since August to strike a deal aimed at normalising relations with Israel. The others were the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

Regional influence

Much of the momentum behind the deal-making has been to present a united front against Iran and roll back its regional influence.

Palestinians have been critical of the normalisation deals, saying Arab countries have set back the cause of peace by abandoning a long-standing demand that Israel give up land for a Palestinian state before it can receive recognition.

With Mr Trump due to leave office on January 20th, the Morocco deal could be among the last his team, led by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and US envoy Avi Berkowitz, will negotiate before giving way to president-elect Joe Biden's incoming administration.

Mr Kushner told reporters on a conference call it was inevitable that Saudi Arabia would eventually strike a similar deal with Israel.

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 to reopen their liaison offices in Rabat and Tel Aviv immediately with the intention to open embassies. And they are going to promote economic co-operation between Israeli and Moroccan companies," said Mr Kushner.

In Rabat, Morocco’s royal court said Washington will open a consulate in Western Sahara as part of Morocco’s deal with Israel.

‘Realistic option’

A White House proclamation said the United States believes that an independent Sahrawi State is "not a realistic option for resolving the conflict and that genuine autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty is the only feasible solution".

“We urge the parties to engage in discussions without delay, using Morocco’s autonomy plan as the only framework to negotiate a mutually acceptable solution,” it said.

Washington had supported a 1991 ceasefire between Morocco and the Western Sahara’s Polisario Front independence movement that called for a referendum to resolve the issue. Last month, after a border incident, the Polisario pulled out of that deal and announced a return to armed struggle.

The Trump White House has tried to get Saudi Arabia to sign on to a normalisation deal with Israel, believing if the Saudis agreed, other Arab nations would follow, but the Saudis have signalled they are not ready. – Reuters

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