Arguments that Morocco needs only US recognition of its sovereignty over Western Sahara overestimate American influence on the UN political process.
Rabat – US recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara in exchange for Rabat’s normalization of ties with Israel is “not on the table,” a senior US official confirmed Thursday.
During a special briefing, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker defied American, Arab, and Israeli media speculation that Morocco would consider exchanging Palestine for Western Sahara.
The US Department of State’s Dubai Regional Media Hub hosted the special briefing with Schenker after his trips to Lebanon, Morocco, and the United Kingdom.
Bryant Harris, a reporter for The National, inquired about the veracity of media reports linking a potential Moroccan decision to normalize ties with Israel in exchange for US support for Rabat’s sovereignty over Western Sahara.
“A while ago there was talk of the US potentially recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara if Morocco moved to normalize relations with Israel. Is that something that’s on the table right now?” he asked.
Schenker, frank in his response, likely dashed the dreams of many international outlets that were certain Morocco would sacrifice the Palestinian cause for US recognition of its territorial integrity.
“Look, I’m not going to talk about the sort of diplomatic discussions with these countries, but that is not an issue on the table right now,” the official responded. “I know that there were several reports out there earlier this year, last year, but it’s not something that’s currently on the table.”
Morocco has maintained for years that it has no intention to exchange its support for Palestine for US support in the Western Sahara dossier, but this has not stopped rampant media speculation.
American and Israeli media claimed in February that Morocco agreed to normalize its diplomatic relations with Israel in exchange for the Trump administration’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
After the UAE and Bahrain announced in August and September their decisions to normalize ties with Israel, a media frenzy ensued once again. Rumors of a brewing Rabat-Tel Aviv diplomacy took center stage, with speculations of future direct flights between the two countries finding fresh momentum.
These rumors were false, as was always the case in the past.
Morocco is no stranger to Israeli normalization rumors, in part because of its history. The North African country was once home to the largest Jewish community in the Middle East and King Mohammed VI made a point of acknowledging Judaism as an essential piece of Morocco’s national heritage in the 2011 Constitution. The Moroccan monarch makes his respect for the Jewish community in Morocco public, and the country welcomes thousands of Jewish pilgrims each year.
However, observers should not confuse Morocco’s religious tolerance — exceptional in the MENA region — with an embrace of Zionism and Israeli occupation and oppression of Palestinians.
Furthermore, Morocco does not simply need US recognition of its territorial integrity in order to legitimize its sovereignty over Western Sahara, and such theories overestimate American influence on the political process.
As Samir Bennis, political analyst and MWN co-founder, put it in September, “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.”
Security Council backing would require support from all five permanent UNSC members. Beyond this, many observers only expect an end to the Western Sahara dispute after Morocco and Algeria come together at the negotiating table and decide to move past the conflict.
After decades of tension between the neighboring countries, US recognition of Morocco’s territorial integrity would likely have little impact on the spirit of Rabat-Algiers ties.
Moroccan normalization with Israel would benefit Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump more than it ever would Morocco. Morocco’s silence was eloquently clear and signaled that Rabat will not take the bait.