In apparent backtrack, Moroccan PM seems to indicate Israel ties possible

Saad-Eddine El Othmani says earlier comments against normalization with Jewish state were made in his capacity as Islamist PJD party leader and not as premier

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

Moroccan Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani on Tuesday appeared to walk back comments in which he said Rabat would not normalize relations with Israel.

El Othmani told the French-language news site Le360 that his comments on Saturday in opposition to warming ties with Jerusalem were made in his capacity as leader of the Islamist PJD party, not as prime minister.

El Othmani added that he had just been reiterating a long-held position of his party. He did not comment further on the matter.

On Saturday, he told his Islamist PJD party, “We refuse any normalization with the Zionist entity because this emboldens it to go further in breaching the rights of the Palestinian people.”

The remarks came before an expected trip to Israel, Morocco and several Gulf states this week by US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner. He is preceded in the region by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Moroccan King Mohammed VI (center) chats with Jared Kushner, senior adviser to US President Donald Trump (left) as crown Prince Moulay Hassan (right) looks on before an Iftar meal, the evening meal when Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset, at the King Royal residence in Sale, Morocco, May 28, 2019. (Moroccan Royal Palace, via AP)

Pompeo landed in Israel Monday morning, was visiting Sudan on Tuesday, and will stop in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates later in the week, as the Trump administration seeks to capitalize on momentum from the historic agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to establish diplomatic relations.

Last week, Hebrew media reported that Morocco was likely to be one of the next Arab states to normalize diplomatic ties with Israel.

Quoting unnamed US officials, the Kan public broadcaster said Morocco was seen as a likely candidate as it already has tourism and trade ties with Israel. The report also cited the North African country’s protection of its small Jewish community.

Establishing formal diplomatic ties with Israel could also improve Morocco’s relations with the US. The report said that in exchange for doing so, Rabat was seeking American recognition of its sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara territory.

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

Morocco occupied large swaths of the Western Sahara in 1975 as Spain withdrew from the area and later annexed the territories in a move not recognized internationally.

Morocco is considered an ally of the United States, and has long maintained informal but close intelligence ties with Israel.

Though the countries have no formal relations, Morocco has hosted Israeli leaders, and Israelis are allowed to visit there. Some 3,000 Jews live in Morocco, a fraction of the number from before the 1948 creation of Israel, but still the largest community in the Arab world.

Besides Morocco, Bahrain, Oman and Sudan have also been touted as nations that could follow the UAE in establishing relations with Israel. Both Bahrain and Oman praised the announcement that Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi would normalize ties.

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