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Lapid to visit Morocco Wednesday, in first trip by Israeli FM since 2003

After 20-year lull in relations, foreign minister to open mission in Rabat ahead of expected visit to Jewish state by Moroccan counterpart

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid arrives in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on June 29, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid arrives in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on June 29, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will take off for Morocco on Wednesday for a two-day official visit, the first by Israel’s top diplomat since 2003.

Lapid will officially open up the Israeli Liaison Office in Rabat, and will meet with his Moroccan counterpart, Nasser Bourita.

He will also spend time in Casablanca with the local Jewish community.

Joining Lapid will be Welfare Minister Meir Cohen, born in Essaouira, Morocco; Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz; Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Ram Ben Barak; and senior Health Ministry official Inbar Zucker.

The Times of Israel will be covering the trip from Morocco.

“This historic visit is a continuation of the long-standing friendship and deep roots and traditions that the Jewish community in Morocco, and the large community of Israelis with origins in Morocco, have,” said Lapid in a statement.

“It will be a moment for political and economic activity, and we will continue to work towards agreements that will bring innovation and opportunity to our countries.”

Israeli tourists arrive at the Marrakech-Menara International Airport on the first direct commercial flight between Israel and Morocco, on July 25, 2021. (FADEL SENNA / AFP)

David Levy visited Morocco as foreign minister in December 1999, as did Silvan Shalom in 2003, after Israel’s diplomatic mission had been closed with the outbreak of the Second Intifada.

Experts saw opportunities for Lapid to improve not only bilateral ties but also its regional standing.

“An emphasis on regional and multi-regional opportunities offered by improved Israel-Morocco relations could help upgrade ties into full ambassadorial-level diplomatic relations and inject new substance into the developing ties,” said Nimrod Goren, President of Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.

“The normalization with Morocco has already assisted Israel recently in reclaiming an observer status in the African Union, and it could lead to enhanced Israeli impact in the Mediterranean, promote joint Israel-Morocco participation in heavily-funded EU programs, support high-level Israeli-Palestinian policy dialogue channels, and enable Israeli companies to be part of Moroccan-Emirati business cooperation.”

The first direct commercial flights between Israel and Morocco took off in July, seven months after the countries normalized diplomatic relations in a deal brokered by the United States.

While Jerusalem and Rabat in the past did not have full relations — with diplomatic offices in each other’s capitals, instead of embassies — they maintained close official ties until Morocco suspended them with the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000.

An Israeli diplomatic source said last month that the ties with the North African kingdom “will turn into full diplomatic relations.”

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita at a press conference after holding talks with his Spanish counterpart, in Rabat, Morocco, on June 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy)

Israel and Morocco renewed their ties late last year, amid a wave of normalization agreements between Jerusalem and Arab countries.

In July, Lapid invited his Moroccan counterpart, Nasser Bourita, to visit Israel.

“After my trip to Morocco, Minister Bourita will come visit Israel to open missions here,” Lapid said at a Yesh Atid faction meeting in the Knesset.

In late June, Lapid made a historic trip to the United Arab Emirates to open the Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi and the consulate in Dubai.

Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz was in Morocco in early July and delivered Lapid’s written invitation during his meeting with Bourita.

Lapid stressed in his letter that restoring ties between Israel and Morocco was a historical milestone. Israel’s top diplomat also expressed his desire to make progress in bilateral cooperation in the fields of trade, technology, culture and tourism.

Alon Ushpiz, director general of the Foreign Ministry, signs the guest book at the Mausoleum of Mohammed V in Rabat, Morocco, on July 7, 2021. (Courtesy)

Lapid said the invitation showed that the establishment of diplomatic relations and direct connections between the two countries and their citizens was “a top priority” for Israel.

“I thank His Majesty King Muhammad VI for the leadership and inspiration he gave to the process,” Lapid said. “I look forward to strengthening the political ties between Israel and Morocco and to building economic, technological, cultural and tourism cooperation between the two countries.”

The comments came after Ushpiz visited the tombs of former Moroccan kings Mohammed V and his son King Hassan II, the current monarch’s father.

“We would like to thank the kings in Morocco… for their friendship and support of the Jews of Morocco throughout history, a legacy that His Majesty King Mohammed VI is carrying on,” Ushpiz wrote in the guest book in both Hebrew and Arabic.

He added: “The tradition of tolerance and moderation that has been left to us and the next generations is an inspiration for the renewal of ties between Israel and Morocco.”

Israeli national security advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat speaks to a press at the royal palace in Rabat, Morocco, on December 22, 2020. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Also last month, a Moroccan air force plane touched down in Israel’s Hatzor Air Base, reportedly to take part in a multinational Israeli Air Force exercise.

Judah Ari Gross and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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