Moroccan delegation due in Israel on Sunday to advance normalization deal

Countries to discuss opening diplomatic missions, launching direct flights; Netanyahu: ‘I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship’

The national flags of Israel and Morocco are projected on the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, December 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
The national flags of Israel and Morocco are projected on the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, December 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

A delegation from Morocco will visit Israel this week to work on advancing diplomatic ties, following the countries’ recent agreement to establish full relations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday.

The sides will discuss reopening liaison offices, establishing embassies and launching direct flights between the countries, Netanyahu said in a video statement.

The delegation will touch down in Israel on Sunday evening, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Netanyahu also mentioned his phone call Friday with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, the first time they spoke since the normalization deal was announced earlier this month.

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)

“It was a very warm, exciting conversation that was held in my not very good Arabic, Hebrew, his excellent French and my English,” the prime minister said.

He said he quoted a line from the movie Casablanca.

“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” he recalled telling the king.

According to Netanyahu’s office, the two leaders congratulated one another on the agreement brokered by US President Donald Trump, which included the White House agreeing to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara region.

During the “warm and friendly” conversation, Netanyahu extended an invitation for King Mohammed VI to visit Israel and the two agreed to continue contacts in order to advance the normalization agreement in the weeks ahead, the Prime Minister’s Office said Friday.

The Moroccan king’s royal office issued a statement saying that, in his conversation with Netanyahu, the monarch recalled “the strong and special ties” between the Jewish community in Morocco and the monarchy, and reiterated “the consistent, unwavering and unchanged position of the Kingdom of Morocco on the Palestinian issue and the pioneering role of the kingdom in promoting peace and stability in the Middle East.”

Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat (L) and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner (2nd-L) meet with Moroccan King Mohammed VI (R) at the royal palace in Rabat, Morocco, December 22, 2020. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

On Wednesday, Morocco’s tourism minister announced that direct flights will begin operating between Israel and Morocco within two or three months.

A joint Israeli-American delegation visited Morocco on Tuesday to sign several bilateral agreements and a trilateral declaration to solidify the normalization agreement.

The group’s flight to Rabat was the first direct commercial flight from Israel to Morocco.

The delegation held high-level talks with Moroccan officials, including King Mohammed VI, and Israel and Morocco announced they would move to swiftly reopen diplomatic missions in each country. The two countries previously operated liaison offices in each other’s lands, which were closed some 20 years ago.

The national flags of Morocco, Israel and the United States on an El Al plane to Morocco, flying a delegation to finalize a normalization deal between Jerusalem and Rabat, at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, December 22, 2020. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Morocco was the third Arab state this year to normalize ties with Israel under US-brokered deals, joining the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Sudan has also announced plans to normalize ties with Israel, though no official agreements have been signed.

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 starting in 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 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 origin.

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