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‘Deplorable’: Moroccan Islamist groups reject normalization of ties with Israel

Conservative group denounces ‘Zionist infiltration,’ second organization laments ‘stab in the back to the Palestinian cause’

Protesters tear at a makeshift Israeli flag during a protest in the Moroccan capital Rabat on June 23, 2019, against the US-led economic conference in Bahrain with its declared aim of achieving Palestinian prosperity. (AFP)
Illustrative: Protesters tear at a makeshift Israeli flag during a protest in the Moroccan capital Rabat on June 23, 2019, against the US-led economic conference in Bahrain with its declared aim of achieving Palestinian prosperity. (AFP)

Morocco’s main Islamist groups on Saturday rejected Rabat’s planned normalization with Israel as part of a US-brokered agreement, with one organization denouncing it as “Zionist infiltration.”

The religious branch of the co-ruling conservative Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), called the Unity and Reform Movement (MUR), said in a statement that the move toward an agreement with Israel was “deplorable.”

The statement further denounced “all attempts at normalization and the Zionist infiltration,” the Reuters news agency reported.

On Friday, the outlawed Adl Wal Ihssane, which is one of Morocco’s largest opposition groups, said the normalization agreement with Israel was “a stab in the back to the Palestinian cause.”

Morocco’s Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani delivers a speech in Marrakech, Morocco, January 30, 2018. (AP/Mosa’ab Elshamy)

That statement came as Morocco’s Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani said the decision to normalize ties with Israel would not affect Rabat’s support for the Palestinians.

Othmani noted Moroccan King Mohammed VI’s phone call Thursday to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, after US President Donald Trump announced Israel and Morocco would normalize relations.

As part of the announcement, Trump said that the US would recognize Morocco’s claim over the disputed Western Sahara region — a long-time ambition of the kingdom, which views control of the region as a key interest.

“Yesterday, King Mohammed VI called President Abbas, to tell him that His Majesty’s position in support of the Palestinian cause remains unshakeable, and that Morocco places it at the same level of Sahara issue,” Othmani said in a statement.

Othmani, who heads PJD, lashed out at Trump’s peace plan and alleged Israeli efforts to “Judaize” Jerusalem.

“We also adopt this principle [in the government], with our constant emphasis on rejecting the Deal of the Century, and all violations of the Israeli occupation authorities, especially the recent attempts to Judaize Jerusalem,” he said.

“The Moroccan position, in general, remains constantly supportive of the Palestinian cause,” he added.

People hold a large Palestinian flag during a protest against normalizing relations with Israel, in Rabat, Morocco, September 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy)

In August, Othmani denied Morocco would normalize ties with Israel, after the United Arab Emirates did so. The UAE decision was later followed by Bahrain and Sudan. He later appeared to walk back the remarks, saying his opposition to warming ties with Jerusalem was made in his capacity as leader of his party, not as prime minister.

The Palestinian Authority has remained silent on the Israel-Morocco agreement, while Palestinian terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad denounced it as a “betrayal.”

Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman have all praised the deal, as have the foreign ministers of the European Union, Spain, and Czech Republic. An Iranian official on Friday called it a “betrayal and a stab in the back” of the Palestinians.

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.

Moroccan Jews and Israeli Jewish tourists participate in Simchat Torah festivities at a synagogue in Marrakesh, on October 12, 2017. (AFP Photo/Fadel Senna)

Explaining the decision to normalize, King Mohammad cited among other reasons the longstanding 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, 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.

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 that have normalized ties with Israel over the past few months, Morocco has a genuine opposition and civil society. While true power largely lies with the monarchy, the parliament has been controlled by the PJD since 2011.

Agencies contributed to this report

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