Morocco recognizes Israel and wins Trump nod on Western Sahara

Shaun Tandon and Sebastian Smith, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Dec 11 2020 05:02 AM

Morocco recognizes Israel and wins Trump nod on Western Sahara 1
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US Ambassador to Israel David M. Friedman light the first Hanukkah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, December 10, 2020. Emil Salman, Pool via Reuters/File

RABAT, Morocco - Morocco confirmed Thursday it would resume diplomatic relations with Israel "with minimal delay" and lauded as "historic" a decision by Washington to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara region.

Following a telephone call between US President Donald Trump and King Mohammed VI, the Moroccan ruler said his country would "resume official contacts.... and diplomatic relations with minimal delay" with Israel, according to a statement by the royal palace.

Morocco and Israel had respectively maintained liaison offices in Tel Aviv and Rabat in the 1990s, before closing them in 2000.

A senior official at Morocco's foreign ministry described the breakthrough with Israel as "not... a recognition, but a normalisation, a resumption of relations that existed before", during a briefing in Rabat. 

The King said these "measures do not in any manner affect Morocco's ongoing and sustained commitment to the just Palestinian cause", according to the royal statement.

He reiterated Rabat's commitment to a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "based on two states living side by side in peace and security".

Morocco would continue to "contribute efficaciously... to a just and sustainable peace in the Middle East," the statement said.

The King had also spoken with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and assured him that he "would never relinquish his role in defending the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people".

After the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, Morocco is the fourth Arab state since August to commit to establishing diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

- 'Morocco's sovereignty' -
The Moroccan king also "sent his sincere thanks to the US president" for his decision to recognise Rabat's sovereignty over Western Sahara, a disputed and divided former Spanish colony, mostly under Morocco's control, where tensions have simmered since the 1970s.

Mohammed VI hailed the "constructive position of the United States", which "reinforces the dynamic of the consecration of the innately Moroccan nature of (Western) Sahara". 

His statement also alluded to the "supportive positions" of other "friendly countries", in light of several nations opening consulates in the Moroccan-controlled northern portion of Western Sahara. 

The UAE in early November became the first Arab country to open a diplomatic mission in the Moroccan-controlled part of the territory, before Jordan announced it would follow suit and Rabat said Bahrain would also open a consulate there.

An Algeria-backed independence movement -- which holds a fifth of Western Sahara -- has campaigned for a vote on self-determination through decades of war and deadlock.

Morocco's foreign ministry said that the US's recognition of "Morocco's sovereignty" over Western Sahara, alongside strong support for Rabat's vision of autonomy for the disputed region under a UN-led political process, represented a "historic breakthrough".


© Agence France-Presse


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