WORLD US-Israeli team signs deals in Morocco to normalize ties

WORLD

US-Israeli team signs deals in Morocco to normalize ties

AFP

07:59, December 24, 2020

Governor of Morocco’s capital Rabat Mohamed Yacoubi (3rd left) welcoming US Presidential adviser Jared Kushner (central) and Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben Shabbat (right) upon arrival in the capital on the first Israel-Morocco direct commercial flight. (Photo: AFP)

A US-Israeli delegation signed agreements with Morocco in Rabat on Tuesday, cementing a normalization of relations between the Jewish state and the North African country.

The visiting delegation, led by Jared Kushner — son-in-law and adviser to outgoing United States President Donald Trump — and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, arrived in Rabat from Tel Aviv on the first direct commercial flight between Israel and Morocco.

Less than two weeks ago, Morocco became the third Arab state this year, after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, to normalize ties with Israel under deals, while Sudan has pledged to follow suit.

The US-Israeli delegation met Morocco’s King Mohammed VI at the royal palace, before the signing of a tripartite declaration lauding Trump’s December 10 decision to recognize Morocco’s “sovereignty” over the disputed region of Western Sahara, widely read as a “quid pro quo” for Rabat’s simultaneous vow to restore ties with Israel.

Tuesday’s declaration included a commitment to “immediately resume full official contacts between Israeli and Moroccan counterparts,” with all parties agreeing to “fully implement” their sides of the bargain before the end of January.

Appearing alongside Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, Kushner said at an evening press conference that the visit had been “enormously productive so far.”

Both Kushner and Ben Shabbat were received at the airport by Moroccan officials, albeit in a low key welcome far from the pomp of the delegation’s departure from Israel.

Alongside the tripartite declaration, four bilateral deals were signed between Israel and Morocco, centering on direct air links, water management, connecting financial systems and a visa waver arrangement for diplomats.

Morocco has North Africa’s largest Jewish community of about 3,000 people, and Israel is home to 700,000 Jews of Moroccan origin.

As part of the Morocco-Israel deal unveiled earlier this month, Trump fulfilled a decades-old goal of Rabat by backing its contested sovereignty in the disputed region of Western Sahara.

The move infuriated the Algerian-backed pro-independence Polisario Front, which controls about 1/5 of the desert territory that was once a Spanish colony.

Kushner said the US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara was “rejecting the failed status quo, which benefits no one.”

“Genuine autonomy is the only feasible option but it will take work, we urge all parties to constructively engage with the United Nations to move forward through the negotiations,” he added.

The US aims to open a consulate in Western Sahara, and has pledged investment.

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