Morocco occupied the territories after Spain’s withdrawal from Western Sahara in 1975, during clashes between the Polisario Front with Morocco and Mauritania. The United States was the first country to formally agree with Morocco’s demand for the possession of Western Sahara. The US-Morocco agreement provides for the opening of a US consulate in the Western Sahara and investment in the region.
In the Israel-Morocco official statement the “opening of a direct flight, the reopening of liaison offices, the return to diplomatic relations and ties at all levels, and cooperation in various fields” have been agreed upon. Although Israel recently signed an agreement for the establishment of relations with the UAE, Bahrain and Bhutan, and is negotiating with Sudan, none of those agreements in terms of normalization of relations has been as sensitive as the relations with Morocco.
Morocco King’s betrayal of Arab leaders in 1967
Prior to the creation of Israel, there were 300,000 Jews living in Morocco, which has the largest Jewish community in North Africa with hundreds of thousands of Jews. Tel Aviv appreciates Rabat’s help in the Six-Day War in the 1960s. King Hassan II of Morocco at that time provided Israel with valuable information about the leaders of the Arab states and their military and armed status, as well as the fact that they were disunited. That is why Israel attacked the Egyptian Air Force in 1967 in a preemptive strike. Shortly afterwards, Mossad came to Rabat’s aid. Rabat had asked Mossad to find the whereabouts of “Mahdi Ben Baraka” as Rabat felt being threatened by him who was the leader of the National Union of Popular Forces (opposition) in Morocco. Mossad also deceived him and took him to France, where he was later assassinated by the Moroccan security agents in Paris.
King Mohammed IV of Morocco: “Zionism, the perpetrator of crime”
Rabat, which was active in the Middle East peace process, played an important role in the 1977 peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. Of course, relations between Morocco and Israel were at times hostile, and in 1959 King Mohammed IV described Zionism as a perpetrator of crime and banned immigration of his country’s Jews to Israel, saying it would strengthen the Israeli army. When Hassan II came to power in Morocco, Jews were allowed to immigrate to Israel in exchange for money. 60,000 Moroccan Jews immigrated to Israel for 50 million dollars. Rabat and Tel Aviv secretly established diplomatic relations in the 1990s, which were cut off by Rabat during the Second Palestinian Intifada but resumed in 2002. The Palestinians these days oppose the normalization of relations and believe that this agreement should not be reached before the final agreement between Israel and Palestine.
Morocco receives between 50,000 to 70,000 Jewish tourists each year, most of who come indirectly from Israel. From this new Christian year, Israeli Airlines will operate a direct 787 flight from Tel Aviv to Rabat every week. Prior to the normalization of relations, Israelis could travel to Morocco, but there was no direct flight between Tel Aviv and Rabat, and special visas were issued for Israeli passports. Israeli-Moroccan trade relations have never been severed, reaching 149 million dollars between 2014 up to 2017 according to official Moroccan statistics. The Moroccan media refer to this investment as a “big opportunity”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on King Mohammed of Morocco to pay an official visit to Israel. The media in Rabat and Tel Aviv refer to the phone call as “very warm and friendly”. The Moroccan officers’ liaison office will open soon in Tel Aviv. The King of Morocco has expressed satisfaction over the reactivation of the cooperation mechanism between the two sides.
Algerian officials have expressed opposition to the normalization of relations with the Zionist regime through various literatures and have shown opposition to the new Moroccan policy by using terms such as “humiliating deal, stigma, selling the nation’s honor, discrediting, endangering the region, multifaceted betrayal, and defending the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination”. The use of such literature and instrumental use of the media in this regard has met with the reaction of the Prime Minister of Morocco.
The Sahara is undoubtedly a special case for Algeria as in the past, and the view that tensions in Western Sahara can only be resolved through the enforcement of international law and the firm conviction of the United Nations and the African Union will remain on the agenda of the Algerian officials. It seems that the normalization agreement between Morocco and the Zionist regime changed the attitude towards the Zionist regime in Algeria to some extent; because Israel is no longer that enemy far from the borders, rather it has turned into a security threat for Algeria.
So far, the parties of the National Liberation Front, the Democratic National Rally, Hams, the Future Front, the National Construction Movement, the New Generation and the Workers’ Party, as well as the Muslim Ulema and some Algerian civil society organizations, have somehow condemned the developments. Close positions by Algeria’s biggest Islamic parties, such as the Movement of Society for Peace and the Justice and Development Front, and leftist parties, such as the socialist groups and the Labor Party, and even introduction of several bills in the parliament in opposition to normalization of relations with Israel, could indicate unprecedented consensus among the country’s opposition with different tendencies.
The Polisario Front, a political-military organization in Western Sahara, was formed in 1973 as a resistance group against Spanish colonial rule in Western Sahara with an aim of gaining independence of the region. After the Spanish withdrawal in 1976, the Polisario established the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in the former Spanish colony, opposing Spain’s move to divide Western Sahara between Morocco and Mauritania. Mauritania and Polisario made peace in 1979, returning the southern part of the Sahrawi Republic (known as Wadi al-Dhahab) to the republic, but the Kingdom of Maghreb occupied the entire northern part of Western Sahara, known as al-Saqiyah al-Hamra’a and annexed it to its soil.
Recognizing the independence of Western Sahara, the African Union accepted the membership of the Polisario Front. While Morocco calls for self-rule in the Western Sahara and presence of a local government and parliament under its rule and argues that if a referendum is to be held it should be about the autonomy of the region and not its secession from Morocco, but the Polisario Front opposes the plan and calls for a referendum on the fate of Western Sahara. The recent agreement could escalate clashes between Morocco and the Polisario Front rebels.