RABAT, Morocco — Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana said Thursday that Israel should take steps toward recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara, during an official visit to the North African kingdom.
“Israel should move toward that goal of recognizing the Moroccan Sahara just as our closest ally the United States did,” Amir Ohana said during a news conference in Rabat. “I supported and pushed toward that goal.”
“Serious discussions” between the countries over the issue are underway and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “will be announcing his decisions in the near future,” he added.
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.
In December 2020, Morocco and Israel established full diplomatic relations as part of the Abraham Accords, which normalized Israeli ties with several Arab countries.
In return for normalization with Israel, Rabat received from Washington recognition of its sovereignty over the Western Sahara.
Israeli-Moroccan cooperation in security, trade and tourism has since grown.
Ohana’s announcement came after a report said Israel was considering recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara, a move that could result in Jerusalem and Rabat upgrading their ties.
On Wednesday, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita met National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, Morocco’s official MAP news agency said.
The two officials “welcomed the sustained momentum of strengthening bilateral cooperation,” the agency said.
However, while politicians push for closer ties, there is opposition from some sectors of the Moroccan public.
Around 50 people demonstrated in front of Rabat’s parliament Wednesday against Ohana’s visit, following a call to protest by the Moroccan Front for Supporting Palestine.
The two countries had established low-level diplomatic relations during the 1990s, following Israel’s interim peace accords with the Palestinians, but those ties were suspended after the outbreak in 2000 of the Second Intifada.