Morocco becomes the latest country to normalise relations with Tel-Aviv but regional experts say the victory could be short-lived.
Palestinians have been quick to condemn the latest announcement by US President Donald Trump that Morocco has agreed to normalise relations with Israel.
The controversial move was slammed by Hamas, a Palestinian political group in Gaza. Its spokesperson Hazem Qassem said in a statement that the agreement "is a political sin that does not serve the Palestinian cause but encourages the Israeli occupation to continue its negligence of the rights of Palestinian people.”
The deal also marks another transactional approach to normalise the existence of Israel, an occupying power, in the Middle East.
Shortly after announcing the “historic” agreement and the “massive breakthrough for peace in the Middle East” between two countries that have never been to war, the White House released a statement giving Morocco a major diplomatic coup in exchange for normalising relations with Israel.
Another HISTORIC breakthrough today! Our two GREAT friends Israel and the Kingdom of Morocco have agreed to full diplomatic relations – a massive breakthrough for peace in the Middle East!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2020
“The United States recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara territory and reaffirms its support for Morocco’s serious, credible, and realistic autonomy proposal as the only basis for a just and lasting solution to the dispute over the Western Sahara territory,” said the White House in a statement following Trump's tweet.
The Moroccan King Mohammed VI told Trump that his country will normalise relations with Israel as soon as possible.
On the surface, the deal seems to give Morocco a victory in ensuring that its hold over Western Sahara becomes beyond international reproach.
It is not yet clear, however, that the Biden administration will be bound by the commitment made by Trump in regards to the Western Sahara.
Biden has broadly been supportive of the recent normalisation deals struck by the Trump administration but it has also accused it of undermining peace in the wider region by attempting to isolate Iran.
The deal may also spur renewed conflict in Western Sahara by the Polisario group, which has been fighting a low-level insurgency in the region with Algerian backing.
“The quid pro quo in this latest case, nevertheless, casts doubt on the agreement’s ability to achieve de-escalation, since the terms might well ignite a new conflict,” said Karim Mezran, director of the North Africa Initiative, while speaking to Atlantic Council.
For an indication that the deal may be more fragile, Morocco need not look further than Sudan who also recently normalised relations with Israel on a transactional basis.
The deal now could become unstuck because of a law that Sudan wants passed in the US that would shield it from being used by the victims of terror attacks that occurred during the reign of the deposed leader Omar al Bashir.
Similarly, Morocco may ultimately have to contend with future congressmen or US presidents. Trump’s commitments towards Western Sahara are unenforceable beyond his presidency. Relations with Israel may also come unstuck.
The deal also brings relations between Morocco and Israel into the open after decades of low-level contacts between the two sides.
Trade between Israel and Morocco is low at $30 million per year but thousands of Israeli citizens travel to the kingdom every year for tourism and business.
Carmiel Arbit, a nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs, said of the deal “After seven successive US presidents insisted on neutrality, such an offer from Trump, no matter how short-lived, is surely too great to pass upon.”
The latest deal is also another win for the embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing a string of corruption probes. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan are in the process of normalisation and Saudi Arabia has shown signs that it wants closer links with Tel Aviv.
But the Israeli-Morocco deal exposes a cruel irony for Palestinians who have often advocated that peace with Israel can only come about for relinquished land — they just didn’t think that it would apply to others in the Middle East.