Rumors that Morocco is ready to normalize ties with Israel discount limitations to US power on the Security Council, established interfaith coexistence, and a strong public will to support Palestine.
Washington D.C – The announcement of the normalization of diplomatic ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) prompted a flurry of news reports from American and Israeli media, alleging that Morocco is among other countries in favor of normalizing ties.
For example, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal published articles about Morocco’s alleged desire to follow in the UAE’s footsteps. The Associated Press said Jared Kushner—senior advisor and son-in-law to US President Donald Trump—was due to visit Morocco during the last week of August, a move that did not materialize. Morocco was not among the countries that Kushner and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited to push other regional actors to normalize relations, nor has it given the slightest hint that it is looking to take that step.
The tendency to put Morocco at the top lists of countries willing to normalize ties with Israel is not new. In February 2020,American and Israel media claimed confidently that Rabat had given the green light to normalizing its diplomatic relations with Israel in exchange for the Trump administration’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara,a 45-year-long territorial dispute that has pitted Morocco against the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, a breakaway movement that seeks to establish an independent state in the territory.
These are not the first instances of Israeli and American media spreading rumors of this nature. In the run-up to the Israeli parliamentary elections in April 2019, Israeli media claimed that Morocco was coordinating with the United States to welcome a visit from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The rumor spread like wildfire in Moroccan and Israeli media, to the point where many Moroccans began to believe King Mohammed VI was indeed preparing to receive the Israeli prime minister. Even after the fact, many viewed the absence of any denial from the Moroccan government as evidence suggesting a visit would eventually take place.
Western Sahara and interfaith tolerance: the rumors’ weak rationale
The normalization rumors have one thing in common: they suggest that Morocco seeks to use a potential rapprochement with Israel to ingratiate itself with the Trump administration and persuade the United States to favor its position on Western Sahara.
Morocco has no interest in normalizing its ties with Israel at the expense of the Palestinians. It also has no interest in using normalization in exchange for supposed American support for its position on Western Sahara. The primary beneficiary of an unlikely normalization of relations between Morocco and Israel would be Netanyahu. Such diplomacy would help restore his image in the eyes of Israeli public opinion. It would give him the aura of a leader who succeeded in ending Israel’s regional and international isolation by normalizing its relations with Arab countries.
Morocco also does not need to normalize ties with Israel to establish its credentials as a bastion of coexistence between different religions. Among all Arab nations, Morocco is known as a bridge between different cultures and for entertaining strong ties with its Jewish diaspora around the world, including more than a million Israelis of Moroccan origin, the Sephardic Jews. More still, the 2011 Moroccan constitution formally recognized the legacy of Judaism in Morocco.
Maintaining an outreach policy with its Jewish population, and incorporating them in its political discourse, is part of an entrenched policy to promote interfaith dialogue and bridge the gap of inter-cultural misunderstanding. This embrace of Morocco’s Jewish population should not be conflated, however, with a desire to normalize its ties with Israel as long as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict rages on without progress.
The weak argument that Morocco could achieve a breakthrough in Western Sahara by welcoming Netanyahu and normalizing ties with Israel overlooks the conflict’s dynamics in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and how the UN works. Though the US is the penholder of the Western Sahara resolutions, it cannot alone impose its view on the other members of the council or change the course of the political process initiated in 2007.
Whether the US wants to advance the Moroccan position or favor Algeria and Polisario Front, it would face resistance from other UNSC members.
Morocco’s dedication to the Palestinian cause
As long as the Israelis refuse to respect the provisions of all Security Council resolutions on the inalienable right of Palestinians to create an independent state with East Jerusalem as their capital, normalizationwith Israel will not be on Morocco’s agenda.
The aggressive policies Netanyahu has adopted since his return to power run counter to Morocco’s position. Rabat has repeatedly called on Israel to end its indiscriminate repression of the Palestinian people and end its policies aimed at Judaizing Jerusalem and dashing the Palestinians’ hope for an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Supporting the Palestinian people and their struggle for an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital is one of the tenets of Morocco’s foreign policy. Since King Mohammed VI took over from his father King Hassan II in 1999, he has never hesitated to denounce Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
Morocco is among the countries that rejected the Trump administration’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Following this decision in May 2018, King Mohammed VI, who is the chairman of the Al Quds Committee, sent a letter to President Trump expressing his “deep concern” about his willingness to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Morocco has chaired the Al Quds Committee since its creation in 1975 and championed its mission to defend the status of Jerusalem as a capital of the future Palestinian state and prevent the change of its legal, religious, and political status.
With its position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict well-known, Morocco has chosen the path of silence, brushing aside allegations by American and Israeli media indicating its readiness to normalize relations with Israel. The Moroccan government was right to dismiss these rumors and not give them any weight.
Moroccan-Emirati divergence dispels the notion of an Arab monolith
On the other hand, one should keep in mind that Morocco is not the United Arab Emirates and Moroccans are not Emiratis. Unlike the United Arab Emirates, Morocco is a 12-century old nation-state and the Moroccan public is known for supporting oppressed peoples. Proof of this is the support that the people and the Moroccan state lavished on the Algerian people during their war of liberation between 1954-1962.
It is this reading of the Arab world as a monolith that many American observers make that leads them to believe Morocco will finally opt for a normalization of its relations with Israel.
In the UAE, public opinion is never taken into account and is reduced to silence and to praising the benefits of the normalization of its country with Israel and the genius of its crown prince. However, Morocco recognizes an established and politicized public opinion against normalization with Israel as long as the latter violates international law and the inalienable rights of the Palestinians.
One needs only to look at the deference with which the Emiratis reacted to the announcement of their country’s normalization with Israel and compare it with the virulence with which Moroccan public opinion reacts to any hint or attempt at rapprochement with Israel.
Moroccan decision-makers’ awareness of their people’s emotional and religious attachment to Palestine is a factor those trying to draw a parallel between Morocco and certain Gulf countries would do well to consider.
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis.