Flying to Morocco: Biden should follow Trump’s path to Arab-Israeli peace
History was made Tuesday when the first direct flight from Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial capital, touched down in Rabat, Morocco’s capital.
This flight was the first visible sign of the new relationship between Morocco and Israel, opening a new era of diplomatic recognition, cross-border investment, tourism and trade. Morocco is now the fourth Arab country to conclude new diplomatic agreements with Israel in as many months.
On board was Jared Kushner, leading a delegation of U.S. officials. Mr. Kushner’s unique approach — uniting economies to create shared prosperity, instead of starting with the nettlesome issues of drawing border lines — differed sharply from that of more than 40 years of diplomatic efforts attempted by Arabs, Israelis, Europeans and Americans. It was initially dismissed, but it has now borne fruit.
Despite threats from Iran, the United Arab Emirates courageously paved the way by signing a peace agreement with Israel in September 2020. It was the first Arab nation to do so since Jordan in 1994. The UAE was soon followed by Bahrain, Sudan, and now Morocco.
Peace between Morocco and Israel has been in the works for decades but always frustratingly just out of reach. The late king of Morocco, Hassan II, worked tirelessly to promote rapprochement between Israel and its Arab neighbors, including the Palestinians. He facilitated all major initiatives, from Camp David in the 1970s to the Oslo Accords in the 1990s. Behind the scenes, King Hassan II was seen as a driving force behind the first peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish State.
Decades of tragedy and wasted opportunities later, the current king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, maintains the same commitment to advancing Arab-Israeli rapprochement.
King Mohammed VI made clear, both in public statements and in a conversation with Mahmoud Abbas, that the normalization agreement with Israel does not mean abandonment of the Palestinians. Instead, it means that they are invited to the negotiating table, leaving behind the baggage of their past preconditions. Israeli leaders also should see these remarkable breakthroughs as an opportunity to come up with new ideas, drawing on America’s 2020 “Peace to Prosperity” plan.
There are family ties between Israel and Morocco. One million Israelis are either from Morocco or had a parent or grandparent born there. The legal rights of Jews and other religious minorities are guaranteed in the 2011 Moroccan constitution. Jewish schools still dot the major cities of Morocco, and Jews freely worship there.
There is, of course, a fringe of Moroccan society which rejects this agreement with Israel, mainly university-educated Islamists and followers of various left ideologies.
However, millions of young Moroccans are fed up with extremist and xenophobic ideologies and want the opportunities and benefits that only peace and partnership can bring. They see Israel as a strong partner in creating jobs, bringing new technologies, and offering hope for their futures.
These peace agreements are realigning the Arab world. Once “from the [Atlantic] Ocean to the Gulf” was the slogan of pro-Soviet pan-Arab nationalists. Now, ironically, from Rabat and Casablanca on the Atlantic Coast to Abu Dhabi and Manama on the Gulf — and with Cairo, Khartoum, Jerusalem and Amman in-between — the same could be used to describe the partnership of the forces that see totalitarian radicalism — this time in Islamist costume — as a common threat.
An Atlantic, African and Mediterranean country, Morocco can make a strategic contribution in all three geopolitical fields. Morocco’s voice of a moderate Islam can make a difference in the ideological struggle with Islamic radicals in Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and across the Near East.
The incoming Biden administration should appreciate how much has changed in the Middle East in the past four years, and recognize that it cannot simply restart where the Obama administration left off in 2016.
To consolidate these gains, America must equip Arab allies to roll back generations of anti-Semitic messages in state-run media, mosques and schools. It also means publicly supporting the rising tide of bold, popular Arab voices that have called for peace and prosperity.
Finally, on a very important subject for Moroccans, and in an unprecedented move, President Trump recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over Sahara provinces. Recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over an area where Morocco engaged hundreds of billions of dollars of investments for the Sahraoui population could possibly break the logjam. Even so, a leftist militia and separatist movement called the Polisario, offering no peace plan of its own, calls for continued “resistance.”
The coming months offer an opening for Arab states to reshape the international discourse and agenda on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Biden’s presidency may provide an opportunity, Arab leadership will be needed to seize it.
Ahmed Charai is a Moroccan publisher. He is a member of the board of directors of the Atlantic Council in Washington and of the Global Board of Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security in Jerusalem.
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