JERUSALEM - Israel and Morocco have agreed to normalize ties, U.S. President Donald Trump announced Thursday, making Morocco the fourth Arab country to establish diplomatic relations with Israel in the past four months. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to hold a phone conversation with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI on Friday, with President Trump on the call. As part of the deal, the U.S. agreed to recognize Morocco’s control of the Western Sahara.
First, it was the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Then Sudan. And now Morocco agreed to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. A jubilant Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke after lighting Hanukkah candles at the Western Wall with U.S. Ambassador David Friedman.
“The people of Morocco and the Jewish people have had a warm relationship in the modern period," Netanyahu said. "Everybody knows the tremendous friendship shown by the kings of Morocco and the people of Morocco to the Jewish community there. I think this is the foundation on which we can build this peace. We’ll resume liaison offices between Israel and Morocco and work as rapidly as possible to establish full diplomatic relations.”
As part of the deal, President Donald Trump said the U.S. would recognize Morocco’s claim over the disputed Western Sahara region. The Sahara was a former Spanish colony, and has been in dispute between the Moroccan government and the separatist Polisario movement, which is backed by Algeria. The Polisario group condemned the announcement and said it changes nothing in legal terms.
Israeli analysts said they do not believe that U.S. President-elect Joe Biden will change the policy once he takes office.
Bruce Maddy Weizmann, an Israeli expert on northern Africa, said that control of the Western Sahara has been Morocco’s most important foreign policy issue since the 1970s.
“So it’s been a long haul for the Moroccans," he said. "For a long time, they’ve had the advantage on the ground controlling 80 percent of the territory without any significant military threat to that control but without the de jure recognition of its claim.”
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have Moroccan heritage and thousands travel to Morocco each year. Now they will be able to visit on direct flights.