A rift between President Donald Trump and Senator Jim Inhofe made the agreement possible.
Rabat – Sources close to the file have revealed far-reaching details about the process that led US President Donald Trump to declare his country’s recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. A rift between a top senator and the president made possible a deal that was two years in the making.
The process of creating a multilateral quid-pro-quo agreement started two years ago, according to new details revealed by Axios. US President Donald Trump’s Special Adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner worked with his 30-year-old aide Avi Berkowitz to approach the Moroccan government.
The 2018 approach
Ex-Mossad deputy director and current businessman Ram Ben Barak led a group that originally came up with the idea to present normalization with Israel in exchange for US recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. Ben Barak had done business in Morocco with an international Jewish Moroccan named Yariv Elbaz who is the chairman of investment fund YCAP.
In 2018, the two approached Israeli, US, and Moroccan officials with the idea.
Ben Barak and Elbaz spoke to Netanyahu’s security advisers, former US Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt, and Morocco’s Foreign Affairs Minister Nasser Bourita, according to Axios. They presented the idea, but it didn’t stick.
However, the two came in contact with Jared Kushner to give them a foot in the door at the White House. Elbaz met with Kushner in Morocco in May of 2019 and took Kushner and his entire White House team for a visit to Casablanca’s Jewish cemetery.
During the same trip, Jared Kushner met with King Mohammed VI, who Axios claims raised the issue of a possible US recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. The King’s remarks had impressed on Kushner the importance of Western Sahara to Morocco.
The visit led to the creation of direct communication between Morocco’s Foreign Minister Bourita and Kushner’s team. Bourita visited the White House with little fanfare a few weeks later to follow up on the discussions. Axios’ sources state that Bourita had several meetings, including with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, where he highlighted the Sahara issue.
Bourita’s visit motivated Kushner to pursue the idea further. The Israeli government became involved and “encouraged” the White House “several times,” Axios wrote, about possible US recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty in Western Sahara.
Division delays, then spurs the agreement
A year ago Bourita reached the deal with Kushner and his aide, but then-National Security Adviser John Bolton and the vocal pro-Polisario Senator Jim Inhofe presented a strong opposition. Trump needed Inhofe’s political support and decided not to move forward with the proposed deal.
At the start of December a public fallout between Inhofe and Trump meant few were left to oppose the deal, as Bolton left the White House in September of 2019.
Once Inhofe was out of the way, Kushner and Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows raised the issue to a much more receptive Trump. The US president agreed and they contacted Morocco’s foreign ministry with the proposal.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs agreed but Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was displeased with the details of the deal. The prime minister was upset that he was not part of the call between King Mohammed VI and Trump to seal the deal, according to Axios’ sources in Netanyahu’s office.
While Inhofe and Netanyahu were unhappy, the King and Trump agreed, and the deal became global news.