Tuesday , January 31 2023
Moroccan King Mohammed VI waves to the crowd as he arrives to the the opening session in the Morocco Parliament in Rabat, in October 2018.Credit: Abdeljalil Bounhar / AP

Analysis: Israel May Seal the Deal With Morocco, but the U.S. Is Footing the Bill

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Netanyahu can boast about the new peace treaties, but Arab countries are not making peace with Israel, rather choosing a reward that suits them in exchange for the diplomatic price they pay,

For many Israelis, the announcement that Morocco is establishing diplomatic relations with Israel came as a surprise. Anyone who has visited Morocco in recent years has been impressed by the hosts’ warm welcome and openness to Israeli tourists, to the point that it seemed as if diplomatic relations had existed between the two countries forever.

To a large extent, the relationship is similar to the one between Israel and Turkey before they officially established ties; that was long before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan changed things for the worse. The more or less secret semi-official ties between Israel and Morocco are a historical fact.

These warming yet covert Israel-Morocco ties strengthened under the late King Hassan, who even ordered the establishment of a Moroccan interests section in Israel after the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. His son, King Mohammed VI, finalized it after the second intifada erupted in 2000, but since then, there have been many meetings and conversations between Israeli and Moroccan representatives about establishing diplomatic relations. Years of ongoing efforts finally culminated in U.S. President Donald Trump’s dramatic announcement Thursday night.

The move has been under discussion for months, but the person who apparently gave it the final push was Israel’s new friend, United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. The prince and King Mohammed VI have a close friendship that they inherited from their fathers. Not only is the UAE the leading Arab investor in Morocco, but like most other Arab states, the UAE supports Morocco’s demand that Western Sahara be recognized as part of its country.

Two months ago, Mohammed bin Zayed announced the opening of a UAE consulate in Laayoune, the largest city in Western Sahara. He thereby took an official step, the first of its kind, to show support for Morocco’s annexation of the territory. The crown prince, who has a luxurious villa in Morocco, recently met with the king, and they apparently agreed to try to obtain Washington’s recognition of Morocco’s controversial claim to Western Sahara in exchange for Morocco establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.

For Mohammed bin Zayed, this is a step that could soften opposition to the UAE’s recent normalization with Israel on the part of other Arab countries and the Arab public. And for Trump, this didn’t require a diplomatic revolution, since he has already openly supported Moroccan sovereignty in Western Sahara and said that the king’s autonomy plan was the only fair and realistic solution to the ongoing dispute.
For Israel, this is an impressive and important achievement. Morocco is now joining Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan, and together, they are building a diplomatic axis in which Israel is seen as an accepted member, even a friend. Down the road, other Muslim countries like Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia may seriously consider establishing relations with Israel as well. However, the United States’ recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara still doesn’t grant it international recognition and the struggle for the territory’s independence is likely far from over.

At the same time, Trump is doing the groundwork that may create a historic turning point in Israel’s status in the region, but don’t remove the strategic threats it faces. Peace with Morocco or the UAE doesn’t dissolve the Iranian threat and it certainly isn’t expected to sway President Joe Biden to withdraw from his plan to resume the nuclear agreement. Nor can it solve the Israeli Palestinian conflict, which will continue to be the reason for the public Arab hostility toward Israel.

Netanyahu can justifiably boast about the new peace treaties, but his involvement had little to do with these deals. Rather, it’s a kind of smorgasbord in which every Arab state chooses the reward that suits it in exchange for the diplomatic price it pays. The UAE will get the F-35 planes, Bahrain will get American protection, Sudan was removed from the U.S. terror list and will receive vital aid from international financial organizations, and Morocco will win American recognition for its sovereignty on Western Sahara.

None of these states are engaged in active war with Israel and none has territorial other demands of it, since the coffers aren’t in Jerusalem but in Washington. The authority to sign the checks will now pass into Biden’s hands. Theoretically, those Arab states now have leverage on Israel’s policy. They would be able to demand that Israel advance the peace talks with the Palestinians if it wants to have good relations with them. That’s what each Arab leader who joined the normalization festival tells the Palestinians by way of explanation.

This position may contradict the Arab Initiative of 2002, according to which Israel must withdraw from all the territories first in order to win normalization and an Arab protection belt. But ideologically it leans on the same idea of relations in exchange for solving the Palestinian problem, only in reverse order.

In reality, it is doubtful any of those states would revoke or violate the agreements with Israel due to its policy in the territories. Nor did any state condition its signing the peace agreement on Israel’s withdrawal or even revisiting talks with the Palestinians.
The exception to this is Saudi Arabia, which Israel sees as the big prize, whose value exceeds the sum of peace with all the other Arab states together. Yet King Salman has made it clear this week in a cabinet meeting that “we must stop the continued building of settlements by the Israeli occupation” and that “the Palestinian problem is a fundamental Arab problem and foremost of the problems that the kingdom strives to solve.”
Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farkhan explained that Saudi Arabia supports normalization with Israel but only in exchange for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that ensures an independent Palestinian state whose capital is Jerusalem.
Saudi Arabia is no holier than the UAE, Jordan or Morocco, but it has a complicated score to settle with the United States, which doesn’t depend only on Trump’s whims or on Israel’s influence. It pertains to Saudi Arabia’s very status as the United States’ senior ally in particular, and its status of an ally of the West in general. It contributed its share of the normalization in a measured way by allowing Israeli planes to use its aerial space, “allowed” Bahrain to establish relations and encouraged Sudan to advance a similar move. The rest will depend on Biden and his policy toward the kingdom much more than on gestures or on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
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About Charles Igbinidu

Charles Igbinidu is a Public Relations practitioner in Lagos, Nigeria

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