Trump says Morocco to resume diplomatic relations with Israel
President Trump on Thursday announced that Morocco had agreed to resume diplomatic relations with Israel, becoming the latest Arab state to do so.
Trump announced the opening of diplomatic relations between the two countries in a series of tweets that also said the U.S. would recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the contested territory of Western Sahara.
Morocco recognized the United States in 1777. It is thus fitting we recognize their sovereignty over the Western Sahara.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2020
Morocco now becomes the fourth Muslim-majority and Arab country to open ties with Israel, following diplomatic breakthroughs this year with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan brokered by the U.S.
Trump spoke with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI in a phone call Thursday, proclaiming that the U.S. will recognize “Moroccan sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara territory,” according to a readout of the call provided by the White House.
Morocco annexed the full territory of the Western Sahara in 1979 but did not receive international recognition of its claims in the face of conflict with the indigenous Sahrawi people, represented by the political-military group Polisario Front. The final status of the territory has stalled under a 1991 cease-fire brokered by the United Nations.
Trump, in his phone call with the Moroccan king, said the U.S. recognized Rabat’s “serious, credible, and realistic autonomy proposal as the only basis for a just and lasting solution to the dispute over the Western Sahara.”
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior White House advisor, called recognizing Morocco’s annexation of the Western Sahara “inevitable.”
“This is something that’s been talked about for a long time, but something that seemed inevitable at this point. It’s something that we think advances the region and helps bring more clarity to where things are going,” he said.
Yet the move is likely to draw pushback from the international community, with the spokesperson for United Nations Secretary General António Guterres saying last month that the global body was committed to the 1991 peace process in resolving the territorial dispute amid increasing violence in the region.
Following U.S. recognition of Morocco’s claims in the Western Sahara, the White House said the king agreed to “resume diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel and expand economic and cultural cooperation to advance regional stability.”
The breakthrough between Rabat and Jerusalem resumes ties between the two countries that were severed in 2000 with the closing of mutual liaison offices in each country amid the outbreak of the second Intifada, the brutal period of violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking alongside U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman during a candle lighting ceremony marking the first night of Hanukkah, thanked President Trump and Morocco’s King Muhammed the VI for the “historic peace.”
“President Trump, the people of Israel and the State of Israel will be forever indebted to you, for your magnificent efforts on our behalf,” Netanyahu said.
“This will be a very warm peace,” the Israeli prime minister said, remarking on the increased cooperation between the two countries and adding they are working to establish direct flights.
“The light of peace on this Hanukkah day has never shone brighter than today in the Middle East,” he said.
Trump has touted these diplomatic breakthroughs as a rejection of the old Middle East paradigms that placed a resolution of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict as primary to opening relations between Jerusalem and the Muslim world.
“President Trump took a contrarian approach, one that was different than not just Democrats, but also Republican administrations,” Kushner said.
The Trump administration’s push in increasing the number of Arab- and Muslim-majority countries opening relations with Israel is part of efforts to shore up alliances to push back against Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear program and funding of proxy-militia organizations in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
It is a key priority for Netanyahu, who opposes the international community’s push to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program and has spoken out against President-elect Joe Biden’s promise to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 nuclear deal signed by President Obama, which Trump withdrew from in 2018.
Yet critics warn that the Trump administration is advancing bilateral agreements that raise risks in the region in exchange for the positive shift in attitudes towards Israel from countries that have rejected its existence for decades.
This includes the Trump administration’s pushing forward a $23 billion arms sale to the U.A.E. that includes Reaper drones, F-35 joint strike fighter jets, munitions and air-to-air missiles. A congressional resolution aimed at blocking the arms deal failed to pass the Senate in a vote on Wednesday.
Senator Chris Murphy (D-Del.), co-sponsor of the resolution, criticized the Trump administration for rushing through the process of the arms deal that “makes defense companies richer and international security poorer.”
“There is no doubt that the UAE’s recent normalization agreement with Israel is a big deal, and there is a level of arms transfer that could make sense for an important partner in the region,” he said in a statement.
“But the Emiratis’ recent behavior in Yemen and Libya where U.S. weapons were misused and given to radical militias, on top of their active and growing defense relationships with China and Russia, should give everyone pause,” he said.
The White House is pushing for Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel, which would further reinforce the alliance countering Iran and strengthen the shifting relations among Arab and Gulf countries towards Israel, with little to no concessions from Jerusalem for the Palestinians.
Kushner on Thursday called it inevitable that Saudi Arabia will recognize Israel — Riyadh has maintained quiet security ties with Israel and, following the establishment of relations with the U.A.E. and Bahrain, opened up its airspace to Israeli commercial flights.
“I do think that Israel and Saudi Arabia coming together and having full normalizations at this point is an inevitability,” he said, but added that the time frame “had to be worked out.”
Yet Saudi officials have signaled pushback to opening ties with Israel over the Trump administration’s policies towards the Palestinians. The two sides severed ties in 2018.
Last week, a prominent Saudi prince harshly criticized Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians at a Bahrain security summit which included Israel’s foreign minister and that was aimed at building upon the increasing cooperation between Israel, the U.A.E. and Bahrain.