21.12.2020 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Moroccan Patterns in US Policy


Recently, outgoing US President triumphantly announced the news that Morocco and Israel agreed to establish full diplomatic relations. Incidentally, the deal is the fourth agreement to be signed between the Jewish nation-state and a predominantly Arab country in the past several months, before the current US leader’s term comes to an end in January.   A little while earlier, Donald Trump had tweeted that his administration would formally recognize “Moroccan control over Western Sahara,” a territory in the south of Morocco that had previously been occupied by Spain. The announcement was meant to show that there was no longer a need for either the UN or other international organizations to get involved in such global affairs. In other words, any deal can be finalized by the most “democratic” nation, i.e. the United States, if it simply issues a statement or recognizes its validity.

Jared Kushner, who some flatteringly refer to as the architect of Donald Trump’s Middle East peace process, said during a phone conference that the Trump administration was willing to facilitate large investments in the Moroccan economy in exchange for a deal with Israel. The latest developments beg the question, “If Joe Biden, who talked about dismantling some of Donald Trump’s policies during his election campaign, is to become the next US President, who can then guarantee that these substantial investments will indeed be made?”.  In all likelihood, what happens next will follow the usual scenario: experienced “democrats” will simply renege on the promises given to poor Moroccans, as they have done in the past in relation to a number of other countries. Morocco is about to encounter all the intricacies of US politics.

It recently came to light that the agreement was the fruit of long-standing talks (since 2017), during which the status of Western Sahara and Morocco’s sovereignty over it must have been the subject of lengthy and difficult discussions. The US Administration’s goal, as The Washington Post pompously put it, was to maintain the situation in such a way as to help bring more clarity to where things were going in the region. The same newspaper also cited Jared Kushner who during a visit to Morocco two years ago stated that America’s goal in the region was fighting terrorism and achieving peace, “while creating opportunities for Morocco and Israel to deepen their economic ties and improve the lives of their people”.

Journalists with close ties to the current US administration who are clearly on their payroll too then created a media frenzy about the supposedly unprecedented reception the normalization and the Abraham Accords have received, urging Israel and other Arab nations to sign similar agreements. All of this prompted Israeli reporters to generate just as much hype about Tel Aviv’s recent noble moves. Having little knowledge about the true essence of the Middle East, the authors of such articles, many of whom have perhaps only recently come to Israel, began saying it was “a major change in the character of the Middle East” that resulted in the signing of the unprecedented peace accords with Israel. They also claimed that such agreements were viewed positively across the entire Arab world and that many Arab countries would wish to join in. Some Israeli politicians and subsequently journalists then started, almost in unison, urging other nations in the region to take similar steps, which, in their opinion, would eventually bring Muslims, Christians and Jews together. This was President Donald Trump’s aim all along when he first visited the region, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican.

Incidentally, while discussing the possibility of having other Arab nations agree to normalize ties with Israel, Jared Kushner referred to the signed deal as a historic breakthrough, which few could have predicted four years ago. From the moment the Middle East peace plan was unveiled, Jared Kushner has been saying that its aim was to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to encourage everyone to work together to stop the rise in terrorism and counter extremist ideology.

It must have been with this objective in mind that the United States opened a large number of military bases in the Middle East and, more recently, sent aircraft carriers and B-52H Stratofortress bombers (capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear weapons) to the region.

Members of the US Democratic and even the Republican party clearly understand that Trump administration’s foreign policies are duplicitous in nature when they run counter to international law. For instance, Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed his concern about the Western Sahara part of the deal as it upended “a credible, internationally supported UN process to address the territorial dispute” over this region. President Donald Trump’s decision to formally recognize Moroccan control over Western Sahara once again pits the administration against the global community with opposing views on the issue. After all, in the opinion of politicians in Washington, US support for Morocco in the conflict, which started in 1979, could trigger a destabilizing new cycle of violence in North Africa.

Meanwhile, Oubi Bechraya, the representative of Western Sahara’s Polisario Front in Europe, condemned US backing of Moroccan claim to Western Sahara and also said, “This will not change an inch of the reality of the conflict and the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination.”

Naturally, Palestinian officials have been critical of all the recent peace accords between Israel and Arab League countries.  Bassam al-Salhi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO’s) Executive Committee, lambasted the latest deal: “Any Arab retreat from the Arab Peace Initiative, which stipulates that normalization comes only after Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands, is unacceptable and increases Israel’s belligerence and its denial of the Palestinian people’s rights”. Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem called the agreement between Israel and Morocco a political sin. “The Israeli occupation uses every new normalization to increase its aggression against the Palestinian people and increase its settlement expansion,” he added.

In an attempt to lessen the blow to the Palestinians, King Mohammed VI of Morocco called Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the State of Palestine and Palestinian National Authority, to discuss the latest developments. The former said the measures did “not in any manner affect Morocco’s ongoing and sustained commitment to the just Palestinian cause”. The king also reiterated his support for a two-state solution and stated that “negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis were the only way to reach a final, lasting and comprehensive solution to this conflict”.

The signing of the agreement between Israel and Morocco to normalize their relations with support from Donald Trump’s administration prompts one to consider the important role Riyadh must have played in the process. In fact, it would be reasonable to assume that the latest deal brought Saudi Arabia a step closer to concluding its own accord with Israel, while pushing other Muslim majority nations to establish closer ties with Tel Aviv. According to an article in The Times of Israel from December 11, 2020, “Saudi Arabia plays a central role in the region, particularly among Sunni states, leading many analysts to speculate that none of the recent normalization deals would have been allowed without a green-light from” the Kingdom.

It is possible that the recent agreements were prompted by the need to establish a united front against Iran in order to reduce its influence in the region. Since Donald Trump is slated to leave his post (if he chooses to respect the will of the voters) on January 20, 2021, the agreement with Morocco may turn out to be one of the last that Senior Advisor to the US President Jared Kushner and Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz would broker before President elect Joe Biden comes to power.

Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.