Morocco’s ruling monarch King Mohammad VI confirmed Thursday that the country intends to establish official relations with Israel for the first time in nearly twenty years, soon after US President Donald Trump announced the breakthrough.
At the same time, the king stressed his country’s unshakeable commitment to the Palestinian cause and a two-state solution. His office said he spoke by phone Thursday evening with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, which has previously castigated the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan for announcing normalized relations with Israel in recent months, calling such moves acts of betrayal.
“[Morocco will] resume official bilateral contacts and diplomatic relations [with Israel] as soon as possible,” King Mohammad said in a statement.
The statement followed an announacement by outgoing US President Donald Trump that Israel and Morocco had agreed to “full diplomatic relations a massive breakthrough for peace in the Middle East!”
In a separate but likely closely-tied statement, the US said it would recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, a former Spanish North African territory that has been the focus of a long-running dispute that has confounded international negotiators for decades.
“His Highness thanked President Trump for the frank and absolute support for the Moroccan Sahara. It is a position that enhances the strong strategic partnership between the two countries and elevates it to a true alliance that includes all fields,” King Mohammad said.
Many observers have speculated that the decision to re-establish relations between Morocco and Israel was a quid pro quo for the United States’s decision to recognize Western Sahara — a move Rabat new would be a non-starter with the incoming Biden administration.
In an interview with the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network, Moroccan Foreign Minister Naser Bureita preferred to emphasize the sovereignty victory for Morroco rather than normalization.
“This is a fundamental transformation in the situation, under the leadership of his Majesty the King,” Bureita said. “Now even great powers admit that there is no solution to the problem of Western Sahara except through Morrocan sovereignty.”
Asked about where new relations with Israel could lead, Bureita changed the subject to stressing Rabat’s support for a two-state solution.
King Mohammad said his country will aim to “resume official bilateral ties and diplomatic relations [with Israel] as soon as possible,” and that Morocco will soon facilitate direct flights to transport Jews and Israelis to and from Morocco.
Israel and Morocco established low-level diplomatic relations during the 1990s following a thawing of ties between Israel and the Palestinians. Those contacts, however, were suspended in 2002 in response to the Second Intifada. Since then, however, the relationship has continued informally, with tens of thousands of Israelis traveling to Morocco every year.
Explaining the decision to normalize, King Mohammad cited among other reasons the long-standing presence of Jews in Morocco. An estimated 50,000 Israelis — many of whom are descendants of Moroccan Jews who left in the 1950s — travel to Morocco each year on trips, learning about the Jewish community and retracing family histories.
“Morocco has played a historic role in bringing the peoples of the region together and supporting security and stability in the Middle East… [there are] special ties that bind the Jewish community of Moroccan origin, including those in Israel, to the person of His Majesty the King,” the statement said.
Morocco is the fourth Arab nation to recognize Israel in recent months as the administration seeks to expand its “Abraham Accords” framework, which began over the summer with an agreement between the Jewish state and the United Arab Emirates.
Bahrain and Sudan have followed suit and administration officials have also been trying to bring Saudi Arabia into the fold.
The move is likely to raise hackles in Morocco. According to one recent poll, only 16 percent of Moroccans have a favorable view of Israel, while 70% view Israel unfavorably.
Unlike the other countries which have normalized with Israel over the past few months, the country has a genuine opposition and civil society. While true power largely lies with the monarchy, the parliament has been controlled by a conservative Islamist party whose roots trace back to the Muslim Brotherhood since 2011.
According to the Moroccan royal court, in his conversation with Abbas the Moroccan monarch stressed his support for the 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 statement said.
“His Highness, may God preserve him, told the Palestinian President that his position was unshakeably supportive of the Palestinian cause. He told the Palestinian president that he had inherited it from his father Hassan II,” the statement said.
The king again invoked Morocco’s historic ties with its Jewish community in his phone call with the Palestinian leader.
“The King of Morocco has a special status, and he has distinguished relations with the Jewish community of Moroccan origin, including hundreds of thousands of Moroccan Jews in Israel,” the king told Abbas, according to the statement.
There was no immediate comment on the normalization deal or the phone call from Ramallah.
Jacob Magid and Agencies contributed to this report.