14.12.2020 Author: Vladimir Danilov

Will Ties between Morocco and Israel Foster Peace?

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“Israel and the Kingdom of Morocco have agreed to a full-fledged diplomatic relationship,” US President Donald Trump wrote with evident satisfaction on Twitter on December 10th, emphasizing in particular that the North African kingdom was the fourth Arab country over the past four months to announce that relations with Israel would be normalized.

Pursuant to this agreement, Morocco will establish full diplomatic relations with Israel, resume official contacts, start direct air service between it and the Jewish state, and both states will help promote economic cooperation between Israeli and Moroccan companies, White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner said in an interview with Reuters.

This definitely is the fourth agreement of this type between Israel and an Arab/Muslim country in the last four months that round off the current White House regime, and was a very important event for the Trump administration, which was been vigorously attempting to leave a “significant mark” in modern history for the Jewish state, actively involving Muslim countries in joining the “Abraham Accords”. Moreover, he who is currently at the helm in the White House has recently taken very desperate steps to convince Rabat to join this agreement.

First of all, this is the obvious desire of current US authorities to link the achieving these agreements on normalizing relations between Muslim countries and Israel to the Jewish religious holidays, which, in their opinion, should impart particular significance to the “historical” role in these events played by Trump and his administration.

For example, signing the “Abraham Accords” in Washington for the mutual recognition and normalization of relations between Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain – under US mediation – on September 15, the eve of the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah, was clearly not done by accident; this was supposed to demonstrate not only the role the United States had in getting Muslim countries to recognize the Jewish state, but also “to mark a new era”, something that Rosh Hashanah symbolizes in the Jewish culture.

Besides that, the Trump administration chose the date for Morocco and Israel to reach an agreement as December 10th, which falls on the eve of the traditional Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, observed by lighting candles to commemorate the miracle that happened when lighting up the Second Temple in Jerusalem after the victory of troops led by Yehuda Maccabee over the troops led by the Greek king Antiochus in 164 B.C.

To achieve this result in the chess game played on Israel’s side, Trump quite successfully pulled off the “Sudanese gambit” in September by sacrificing a pawn: excluding Sudan from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. It is true that is still too early to talk about Washington has achieved total victory by signing this agreement, since Khartoum, according to US media reports, may annul that if the US Congress does not grant Sudan immunity from the lawsuits filed by the victims of terrorist attacks.

Trump’s “Moroccan gambit” resulted in his sacrificing another pawn: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Western Sahara (POLISARIO, or the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro), which is supported by neighboring Algeria and seeks for the Western Sahara to secede from Morocco, as well as establish the Sahara Arab Democratic Republic on that land. Exactly one minute before normalization of relations between Morocco and Israel was announced, Trump affirmed that he had signed a document in conformance with which the United States recognizes Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara.

It is worth mentioning that the Western Sahara is a territory in northwest Africa that has been a Spanish colony since 1884. In 1973, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Western Sahara (POLISARIO) was established in the Western Sahara, and In 1975, under pressure actively exerted by Morocco and Mauritania, an agreement was signed in Madrid on having Spain transfer jurisdiction over the northern part of the Western Sahara to Morocco, and over the southern part to Mauritania. Due to that, today about 80% of the territory in the Western Sahara is controlled by Morocco, while the rest is controlled by the POLISARIO front, which back then hailed the formation of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Since 1991, after reaching a ceasefire agreement, the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) has been operating in Western Sahara under a UN Security Council mandate.

However, the situation in the Western Sahara remains complex, primarily due to the different positions taken toward determining the status for this area. According to the UN, the Western Sahara represents an area that has not been decolonized, and a number of countries, in particular the United States and some European states, consider Western Sahara to be a Moroccan colony. However, a number of other countries, and among them Russia, Germany, and Algeria in particular, take a different view: they do not believe that the Kingdom of Morocco can lay any claim to area of the Western Sahara. By virtue of this, the Western Sahara conflict is far from over. The fact that the disputed territory is rich in oil fields, and therefore voluntary concessions on the part of the parties involved in the conflict should not be anticipated, contributes to the intensity of the struggle for control of the Western Sahara.

After almost 30 years of relative calm, the situation in the Western Sahara has recently sharply deteriorated: Moroccan army units entered the buffer zone, and began to set up a security cordon. After that, the head of the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and Brahim Gahli, the general secretary of the POLISARIO Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro), announced that it was withdrawing from the armistice agreement between it and Morocco that was signed in 1991, and declared that Western Sahara is in a state of war with Morocco.

To lend at least some degree of outside support to its actions taken to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, Washington secured a statement in early December from Jerry Matthews Matjila, the Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations who currently presides over the UN Security Council, that the international community allegedly must admit that the peace plan for Western Sahara has failed, and promises have not been fulfilled concerning holding a referendum in the region on self-determination.

That is why the text of the White House’s declaration settling relations between Morocco and Israel includes the wording that, according to the United States, an independent state in the Sahara is “an unrealistic option for resolving the conflict,” and that “genuine autonomy (for the region) under Moroccan sovereignty is the only possible solution”. In this regard, Washington urged “the parties to the Western Sahara conflict to immediately proceed with talks, taking guidance from the Moroccan autonomy plan as the only basis for negotiations on a mutually acceptable solution”. In addition, it is reported that the United States will help foster economic and social development with Morocco, including in the Western Sahara, where the United States specifically intends to open up a consulate there in Dakhla. And, in a statement made that addresses this, White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner emphasized that the agreement reached between the two countries “further reinforces Israeli security, creating opportunities for Morocco and Israel to deepen their commercial ties and improve the lives of their peoples”.

However, according to a number of responses to this event that have already been published in the media, a “bright blue sky” in the near future can scarcely be expected. One POLISARIO representative states, according to Reuters, that he “deeply regrets” the change in course for US policy, which he called “strange, but not surprising”. “This will not change the realities of the conflict at all, nor the right of the people in the Western Sahara to self-determination,” said Ubi Bkhraya, the POLISARIO’s representative in Europe.

Reuters emphasized that president-elect Joe Biden, who is due to replace Trump on January 20th, will inevitably face the problem of whether or not to accept the US commitments to the Western Sahara, since no other country in the West has taken this step yet.

Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

 


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