The US has brokered a “historic” deal between Morocco and Israel. But what stance will President-elect Joe Biden take, and what will become of the deal come January?
On December 22, Morocco and Israel officialized their much-commented agreement to establish diplomatic relations. Adding to the significance of the occasion was that the official declaration followed the first commercial flight between the two countries.
For US President Donald Trump, diplomatic rapprochement between Morocco and Israel was a giant step for his Middle East “Peace Plan.”
Western Sahara in the US-Morocco equation
But inviting Morocco into the “Abrahamic Accord” entailed providing unambiguous support for Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. While Many critics have lampooned the “quid pro quo agreement,” the Trump administration sees it as central to America’s MENA interests.
US Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, who recently led the US-Israel delegation to Morocco that officialized the agreement, has hailed Morocco as a reliable and vital US ally. Speaking during his recent visit to Morocco, Jared Kushner said he was “particularly grateful to His Majesty King Mohammed VI for his visionary leadership, which places Morocco and the entire region on a very promising trajectory.”
Plagued by political indecision, the debate over Western has been dragged out since the mid-20th century, when Spain gave up its colonial claim over the territory.
As the conflict’s opposing camps continue their battle for the hearts and minds of the international community, political pressure comes in many different forms, and from many different sides.
Between concerns expressed by the African Union (AU), Algerian-backed Polisario, Morocco, and various Western nations, any discussion around Western Sahara has effectively come to halt. In this context of stagnation and lingering uncertainty, the US-Morocco deal brings new hope in revitalising discussions over the status of Western Sahara.
Not Everyone is Satisfied
Even though the deal aims to promote bilateral cooperation in fields such as trade, technology, agriculture, tourism, and other fields, various US politicians have expressed concern and dissatisfaction.
John Bolton, President Trump’s former National Security Adviser, is one of the most trenchant critics of the agreement. “From the perspective of U.S. policy, the best outcome would be for Biden, once inaugurated, to reverse Trump’s acquiescence to Moroccan sovereignty,” Bolton wrote in a recent opinion article for Foreign Policy.
Similarly, James Baker, who served as US secretary of state, as well as United Nations’ secretary-general’s personal envoy for Western Sahara, has expressed hostility over the treatment of Western Sahara as a bargaining chip.
“Trump deserves credit for seeking to rearrange the chessboard in the Middle East… But any success in this effort should never come at the price of abandoning the United States’ commitment to self-determination, the bedrock principle on which our country was founded and to which it should remain faithful,” Baker said in a Washington Post article.
Meanwhile, pro-Algerian figures, such as the lobbyist David Keene continue to settle personal scores with President Trump, all the while deceptively presenting Morocco as the villain of the Western Sahara story.
In a particularly biting attack on the US Western Sahara move, Keene described the decision as a shameful “blow against self-determination”. “President Trump… [has] made a deal that is immoral, shamefully cynical and can only tarnish the president’s legacy,” he claimed.
David Keene, whose lobbying contract with Algeria involves a sum of approximately $30,000 a month, is visibly pushing for Algeria’s top two priorities in Washington: Winning converts to Polisario’s “self-determination” gospel, and presenting Algeria to US policymakers as a crucial, vital partner to have in North Africa.
Despite both vocal support and opposition, so far President-elect Joe Biden remains silent about the new deal.
The Abrahamic Accord, arguably President Trump’s biggest foreign policy initiative, has already received push back in the past. When the United Arab Emirates moved to buy military equipment from the United States, the deal narrowly passed the vote in congress.
While many have applauded President Trump’s determination to “normalize” ties between Israel and the Arab world, the US congress appears to be split on the issue. As such, it remains to be seen whether the current US stance on Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara will remain unchanged come January, when President-elect Joe Biden will be taking office.
With so much resistance, including a lingering feeling that the Biden administration is very likely to upend a number of the Trump administration’s key domestic and foreign policy initiatives, one is left to wonder what the future holds for the newly established, US-brokered relationship between Morocco and Israel.
Further dialogue and opinions are sure to be published in the coming weeks, from both camps. In such a profoundly polarized atmosphere, can the US government close the divide, and provide a consistent, bipartisan stance on the issue? And whichever way it goes, how will this affect the new ties between Morocco and Israel?