Morocco is pressuring Israel to recognize the Western Sahara as part of Moroccan territory in exchange for opening an embassy in Israel, American news website Axios reported.
Morocco is said to be conditioning the opening of an embassy in Tel Aviv on formal recognition by Israel of its sovereignty over the Western Sahara, according to a report in the American news website Axios.
Israeli officials directly involved in the case told the site that Morocco has repeatedly raised the issue in meetings with Israeli officials over the past few months. So far, the Israeli government has decided not to engage on this issue, the Israeli officials said.
During a visit to Morocco in June, Ayelet Shaked, then Interior Minister, told Moroccan media that Israel recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. But the Israeli foreign ministry quickly downplayed Shaked’s remarks, saying “Morocco’s autonomy plan for the Sahara is a positive development.”
Several weeks later,the then Justice Minister, Gideon Sa’ar, also visited Morocco and made a statement that Western Sahara was part of Morocco, before the foreign ministry intervened again, distancing itself from this statement and reiterating a more nuanced position, according to the Axios report.
Morocco cut ties with Israel in 2000 after the start of the second intifada, but normalized its ties in 2020 in the wake of the US-mediated Abraham Accords. Following the Trump administration’s recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara, Rabat normalized its diplomatic relations with Israel and opened a diplomatic liaison office in Tel Aviv. In January 2021, Moroccan King Mohammed VI assured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he was committed to opening an embassy as part of the next phase of the peace process.
Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita was expected to make an official visit to Israel last September on the occasion of the second anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords? but this did’nt happen.
Morocco has claimed the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony with rich phosphate resources and offshore fisheries, since Spain withdrew from the territory in 1975. But the Polisario Front, a group supported by neighbnoring Algeria, has taken up arms to demand the independence of the territory.
So far, the Israeli government has decided not to engage on this issue, the Israeli officials said.
According to the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), one of the main Israeli think tank, the Sahara issue ‘’is another topic that the Israeli government could use to deepen relations with Morocco, arguing that the kingdom has highlighted the importance of support from its partners.’’
The institute said that this issue could “slow down relations” if Israel does not move forward, explaining that it is “a key issue in Moroccan foreign relations and where it expects clear support from its allies, including Israel.
”Israel must officially recognize Morocco’s sovereignty in Western Sahara. This is a necessary step, after many countries around the world, including the US, have done so. The leadership in Morocco also expects this,” wrote in Israel Hayom Meir Ben-Shabbat and David Aaronson, respectively head of Israel national security council between 2017 and 2021 and deputy director for Israel at the Abraham Accords Peace Isntitute.
”As far as Israel is concerned, in addition to this step contributing to the promotion of ties with Morocco, it will also weaken the Polisario Front, supported by Iran and Hezbollah,” they wrote.
According to Moroccan media, since his arrival at the head of the new Israeli government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly expressed his desire to strengthen ties with Morocco, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.
The media noted that offficially Morocco did not congratulate Benjamin Netanyahu on his re-election.
Summit of the Abraham Accords signatories in Morocco in March ?
A summit of the Abraham Accords signatories – the US, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan- is expected to take place in March in Morocco. The directors general of the foreign ministries of these countries are expected to meet in Abu Dhabi next week.
Last March, Israel hosted the “Negev Summit’’ which included the participation of the Foreign Ministers of the UAE, Bahran, Morocco and Egypt, and of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.