Israel, Morocco to exchange delegations next month to push normalization deal

National security adviser talks with Moroccan FM on advancing ties, particularly in areas of investments, transportation, water, environment, energy and tourism

National Security Council chairman Meir Ben-Shabbat (L) and Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita. (Photo collage/Flash90, AP)
National Security Council chairman Meir Ben-Shabbat (L) and Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita. (Photo collage/Flash90, AP)

National Security Council chairman Meir Ben-Shabbat spoke on the phone with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita on Friday and the two agreed to send delegations to the respective countries in February to advance their recent normalization agreement.

A high-level Moroccan delegation will visit Israel at the end of next month and an Israeli delegation headed by Ben-Shabbat will visit Morocco also some time in February, depending on the virus situation in each country, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Ben-Shabbat and Bourita also agreed to establish “joint working groups” to promote cooperation between the two countries in a variety of areas, including investments, transportation, water, environment, energy and tourism. Due to the pandemic, those groups will hold meetings virtually, the PMO said.

The two leaders “discussed the great potential” their countries’ normalization agreement presents “which will benefit not only Morocco and Israel, but the entire region,” the PMO added.

Left: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Nov. 19, 2020; Right: Morocco’s King Mohammed VI in Paris, May 2, 2017 (AP Photos/Maya Alleruzzo, Michel Euler)

The fact that Bourita spoke to Ben-Shabbat and not his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi appeared noteworthy given previous criticism that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been shutting the foreign minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz out of conversations critical to their fields of responsibility. The premier did not keep them in the loop regarding several of the earlier normalization agreements and has been accused of also trying to box them out of conversations regarding Iran policy as the US prepared to re-enter the nuclear deal.

Earlier this week, Israel’s chargé d’affaires to Morocco arrived in the capital city of Rabat, 20 years after Israel closed its liaison office in the North African country.

Dr. David Govrin, who served as Israel’s ambassador to Egypt from 2016 to 2020, will build up Israel’s diplomatic mission in the country, expanding bilateral political, tourism, economic and cultural ties.

Morocco became the third Arab state in 2020 to normalize ties with Israel under US-brokered deals, joining the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. In return, then-US president Donald Trump fulfilled a decades-old goal of Morocco by backing its contested sovereignty in Western Sahara, what Rabat refers to as its “southern provinces.”

Israel’s liaison office in Rabat had been closed in late 2000, when Morocco decided to call off the existing low-level ties between the two countries with the outbreak of the Second Intifada. Though the countries’ liaison offices were closed some 20 years ago, the properties remained in their respective possessions, allowing Jerusalem and Rabat to rapidly reopen them.

Then-US presidential adviser Jared Kushner, center, and National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, center-right, arrive at the Royal Palace in the Moroccan capital Rabat, December 22, 2020. (Fadel Senna/AFP)

Initially, Morocco and Israel will maintain liaison offices in one another’s countries, but plan to establish full embassies in the future.

The Israeli cabinet on Sunday approved the establishment of diplomatic ties between Israel and Morocco. The Knesset is still required to ratify the treaty. The previous normalization deals were unanimously approved by the cabinet. In the Knesset, all but the Arab lawmakers backed the pacts.

Morocco is home to North Africa’s largest Jewish community, which has been there since ancient times and grew with the arrival of Jews expelled from Spain by Catholic kings from 1492.

It reached about 250,000 in the late 1940s, 10 percent of the national population, but many Jews left after the creation of Israel in 1948, many of them fleeing local hostilities directed at them over the establishment of the Jewish state.

About 3,000 Jews remain in Morocco, and the Casablanca community is one of the country’s most active.

Israel, meanwhile, is home to 700,000 Jews of Moroccan descent.

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