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Israel tells Morocco it recognizes its sovereignty over disputed Western Sahara

Netanyahu sends letter to King Mohammed VI announcing move, says Jerusalem is examining opening a consulate in region’s capital Dakhla

A Moroccan army vehicle drives past car wreckage in Guerguerat, in Western Sahara, on November 24, 2020, after an intervention of the royal Moroccan armed forces in the area. (Fadel Senna/AFP/File)
A Moroccan army vehicle drives past car wreckage in Guerguerat, in Western Sahara, on November 24, 2020, after an intervention of the royal Moroccan armed forces in the area. (Fadel Senna/AFP/File)

Morocco announced on Monday that Israel had informed Rabat of its decision to recognize its sovereignty over the contested Western Sahara region.

A statement from the Moroccan Foreign Ministry said that King Mohammed VI received a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, affirming Israel’s move to “recognize the sovereignty of Morocco over the territory of Western Sahara.”

Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office later confirmed the details of the statement from Morocco.

Rabat also said that Netanyahu’s letter noted Israel is “positively examining” opening a consulate in Dakhla, the regional capital. Netanyahu also wrote that the move will be “reflected in all relevant acts and documents of the Israeli government.”

The ministry added that the prime minister’s letter noted that the decision would be “transmitted to the United Nations, to regional and international organizations of which Israel is a member, and to all countries with which Israel maintains diplomatic relations.”

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on Monday welcomed the move, saying in a statement that it would “strengthen the relations between the countries and between the nations, as well as the continuation of cooperation to deepen peace and regional stability.”

Morocco’s Parliament Speaker Rachid Talbi Alami (R) listens to visiting Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana (C) speak in Rabat on June 8, 2023. (AFP)

Ties with Morocco have been shaky in recent months. Rabat and Jerusalem are still working to fully cement relations since announcing the normalizing of ties in 2020 under the Abraham Accords. As part of that deal, brokered by the Trump administration, the US recognized Morocco’s unilateral annexation of Western Sahara. Despite pressure, the Biden administration has not reversed the US recognition of the disputed territory.

Israel’s recognition is sure to smooth out ties between the nations following a bumpy period.

Last month, Morocco postponed a meeting of Israel and its Arab allies that it had been due to host this summer, in response to spiraling violence in the West Bank. Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said at the time that he hoped the meeting could still go ahead at a later date when circumstances were more “favorable.”

Israel has been working to shore up ties with its nascent Arab ally, even as its current right-wing government has caused some consternation among its Abraham Accords partners.

During a visit to Morocco last month, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana said Israel should take steps toward recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, “just as our closest ally the United States did.” Also last month, the two nations signed a deal easing mutual visa requirements during Interior Minister Moshe Arbel’s visit to Rabat.

Health Minister Moshe Arbel (left) shakes hands with Moroccan Health Minister Khalid Ait Taleb in Rabat on June 16, 2023. (Moroccan Health Ministry)

And earlier Monday, the IDF appointed its first-ever military attaché to Morocco, as security ties between the countries expand.

The Western Sahara dispute dates back to 1975, when colonial ruler Spain withdrew from the territory, sparking a 15-year war between Morocco and the Polisario Front movement seeking independence in the territory.

Rabat controls nearly 80 percent of the Western Sahara and sees the entire territory, home to abundant phosphates and fisheries, as its sovereign territory.

Rabat advocates for limited autonomy for the vast desert territory, while the Polisario seeks independence and has called for a UN-supervised referendum on self-determination, but it has never taken place.

AFP contributed to this report.

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