Knesset speaker Amir Ohana set to visit Morocco’s parliament this week

Ohana to meet counterpart in Rabat on 1st official visit by head of Israeli legislature to Muslim country’s parliament; Israel waiting for kingdom to set date for next Negev Summit

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu , right, converses with Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana during a Likud faction meeting on February 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu , right, converses with Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana during a Likud faction meeting on February 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana will visit Morocco this week at the invitation of his Moroccan counterpart, the Likud lawmaker said on Monday.

The trip, which begins on Wednesday, will be the first official visit by a Knesset speaker to the parliament of a Muslim country.

“This visit is possible thanks to the groundbreaking leadership of the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, ” said Ohana in a statement.

“The dream of peace with the Islamic countries has been beating in our hearts since time immemorial,” he continued. “And how appropriate that of all these many countries, the Kingdom of Morocco is the first to invite one of the symbols of government and the head of the legislative authority of the State of Israel… for an official visit to its House of Representatives.”

Ohana noted that he is of Moroccan heritage, the first of such descent to serve as Knesset speaker.

He is slated to meet with House of Representatives Speaker Rachid Talbi Alami and with Nor-Ddin Elhrouchi, chair of the Morocco-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group.

Moroccan King Mohammed VI greets the crowd as he stands in a limousine during a ceremony of allegiance, at the King’s palace in Tetouan, on July 31, 2018, to mark the 18th anniversary of Mohammed VI ‘s accession to the throne. (AFP)

Ohana will also meet with heads of the local Jewish community and with Moroccan government officials.

Ohana is also expected to give a press conference and sign a memorandum of understanding to develop inter-parliamentary cooperation between the two countries.

The North African kingdom normalized its ties with Israel in December 2020, part of a series of deals known as the Abraham Accords, brokered by the administration of then-US president Donald Trump.

Since the 2020 deal, Morocco’s ties with Israel have developed rapidly, with Rabat buying advanced drones and other military equipment as well as cybersecurity products.

Moroccan demonstrators burn an Israeli flag at a protest in Rabat on September 9, 2022. (Fadel Senna/AFP)

Bilateral trade between Jerusalem and Rabat grew by a third in 2022, while some 200,000 Israelis visited Morocco, according to official figures. Some 700,000 Israelis are of Moroccan descent and many of them have maintained strong ties.

But there have been signs of moderate tension since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current government came to power in December. As violence between Israel and Palestinians spiked earlier this year, the government in Rabat came under criticism from opposition parties for its ties with Israel.

Morocco regularly reiterates its commitment to Palestinian rights, and the king chairs the international Al-Quds committee, which works to preserve the “Arab-Muslim character” of Jerusalem.

The Palestinian cause continues to draw immense sympathy from Moroccans, and civil society groups have launched a campaign to push back against normalization.

United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, right, makes remarks at the Negev Summit, with from left, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, March 28, 2022, in Sde Boker, Israel. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

Furthermore, the Negev Summit, a forum of Israel and Arab states that was due to take place in Morocco in March, was postponed. It is now expected to take place this month, but no date has been set.

Arab members of the forum have also asked Israel to change the name to make it less Israel-specific.

Still, the bilateral relationship is advancing.

Last week, Transportation Minister Miri Regev was in Morocco to sign three transportation deals to facilitate exchanges between the countries. The agreements will allow Israeli driver’s licenses to be used on the roads in Morocco, encourage direct shipping between the two countries, and facilitate exchanges related to road safety and transportation innovation.

AFP contributed to this report. 

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