Israeli prime minister welcomes fourth US-brokered deal between Israel and an Arab country but Palestinians worry it will increase Israel's settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank.
Israel and Morocco have agreed to normalise relations, President Donald Trump has said, marking the fourth Arab-Israeli agreement in four months. As part of the deal announced near the end of Trump's term, the United States will recognise Morocco's claim over the disputed Western Sahara region.
Trump said on Thursday Israel and Morocco would restore diplomatic and other relations, including the immediate reopening of liaison offices in Tel Aviv and Rabat and the eventual opening of embassies. US officials said there would be joint overflight rights for airlines.
The White House said Trump and Morocco's King Mohammed VI had agreed that Morocco would “resume diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel and expand economic and cultural cooperation to advance regional stability.”
“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!” Trump tweeted.
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 US will recognise Morocco's claim over Western Sahara, the former Spanish territory in North Africa where a long-running dispute has confounded international negotiators for decades.
Trump noted that Morocco had been the first country to recognise the United States as an independent nation just a year after the US declared its independence from Britain in 1776
“It is thus fitting we recognise their sovereignty over the Western Sahara,” Trump said.
Morocco recognized the United States in 1777. It is thus fitting we recognize their sovereignty over the Western Sahara.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2020
The deal is the result of talks conducted by the president's senior adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner, and his chief international negotiator, Avi Berkowitz. “This is a significant step forward for the people of Israel and Morocco. It further enhances Israel’s security, while creating opportunities for Morocco and Israel to deepen their economic ties and improve the lives of their people,” Kushner said.
“The president reaffirmed his 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 and as such the president recognised Moroccan sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara territory,” the White House said.
Morocco and Israel had respectively maintained liaison offices in Tel Aviv and Rabat in the 1990s, before closing them in 2000.
Netanyahu welcomes announcement
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed President Trump's announcement of a normalisation deal between Israel and Morocco as an "historic peace between us."
Netanyahu said it would lead to direct flights between Morocco and Israel and that the fourth US-brokered deal between Israel and an Arab country in recent months would be a "very warm peace."
Thanking Trump, he added, "I want to thank, too, the king of Morocco, King Mohammed the VI, for taking this historic decision to bring an historic peace between us."
Rafael Peretz, an Israeli cabinet minister, welcomed the deal, calling it "historic and joyous."
"My parents, who immigrated from Morocco and left their entire lives behind, always spoke of peace and about good relations with the Arab neighbours in Morocco," he tweeted.
"The time has come for us to do so, too."
'Denial of the Palestinian people’s rights'
But Bassam as Salhi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee, condemned the deal, as Palestinian officials did with the earlier Israeli normalisation accords with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.
“Any Arab retreat from the (2002) Arab peace initiative, which stipulates that normalisation comes only after Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands, is unacceptable and increases Israel’s belligerence and its denial of the Palestinian people’s rights,” Salhi told Reuters.
In Gaza, Hazem Qassem, spokesperson for the Hamas administration, said, “This is a sin and it doesn’t serve the Palestinian people. The Israeli occupation uses every new normalisation to increase its aggression against the Palestinian people and increase its settlement expansion.”
Morocco was the Muslim country from which the greatest number of Jews emigrated to Israel after the 1948 creation of the state. A small Jewish community remains in the North African country.
The news broke in Israel as Jews marked the first night of the Hanukkah festival of lights, commemorating the 2nd century BC victory of Judah Maccabee and his followers in a revolt in Judea against armies of the Seleucid Empire and the ensuing restoration of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
Morocco is the fourth Arab nation to recognise Israel as the Trump administration seeks to expand a diplomatic framework that began over the summer with an agreement between the Jewish state and the United Arab Emirates.
Bahrain and Sudan have followed suit and administration officials have also been trying to bring Saudi Arabia into the grouping.