'Circle of peace': Morocco, Israel mark historic anniversary of renewed ties

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Israel has marked the first anniversary of its US-sponsored resumption of diplomatic relations with Morocco. While the US says the fledgling friendship "widens the circle of peace" in the region, not everybody is celebrating.

During a video conference, the three countries' foreign ministers, Nasser Bourita, Yair Lapid and Antony Blinken, welcomed a partnership aimed at establishing what the US Secretary of State called "an achievement that has deepened ties, partnerships and avenues to pursue shared goals".

Bourita said Rabat was committed to help achieve "a lasting peace in the region".

Morocco renewed official relations with Israel in December last year, two decades after it cut ties when the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, began.

Abraham Accords

The rapprochement was part of a string of normalisation deals between Israel and four Muslim countries, Bahrain, Morocco, the UAE and Sudan, brokered by the administration of then US president Donald Trump and known as the Abraham Accords.

The deal infuriated the Palestinians as it went against the longstanding Arab consensus opposing normalisation until Israel agrees to a comprehensive and lasting peace.

On Wednesday, Blinken hailed "a positive step for the region as we aim to widen the circle of peace".

"The United States is committed to supporting and expanding the Abraham Accords. We'd look forward to seeing your liaison offices becoming embassies in the near future," he said.

Western Sahara

Bourita also accepted an invitation from Lapid to visit Israel "as soon as possible".

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict he reiterated Morocco's support for a two-state solution.

A pro-Palestinian coalition of far-left militants and Islamists had called for sit-ins in several cities to protest the accord anniversary but authorities in Rabat forbade it. Turnout was modest elsewhere, according to videos on social media.

Despite pro-Palestinian sympathies in Morocco, the renewal of relations with Israel did not spark major protest, as Washington at the same time recognised the kingdom's sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara.

Morocco controls most of Western Sahara and considers the former Spanish colony part of its sovereign territory, while neighbouring Algeria backs the Polisario Front independence movement.

Defence cooperation

Morocco and Israel had earlier on established diplomatic relations in the early 1990s following the Oslo Accords between Israel and Palestine, but ties were suspended after the Second Intifada, the Palestinian's uprising against Israel, that started in September 2000.

After re-estblishment of relations last year, normalisation is proceeding fast.

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz made an unprecedented visit last month that saw the signing of a security pact which angered Algeria and the Palestinians.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed in Rabat during the trip, which according to an Israeli defence spokesperson lays down a "solid security cooperation framework" that allows for increased cooperation in areas of “intelligence, industrial collaboration, military training and more."

Regional media have since reported on Moroccan acquisition of Israeli defence technology.

Israel's Economy and Industry Minister Orna Barbivai is also expected to visit early next year, media in the kingdom have reported.

Meanwhile, Algeria, which supports Western Sahara, has cut diplomatic ties with Morocco in August, citing "hostile actions", a charge Rabat has denied.

(With AFP)

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