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Moroccan team arrives in Israel to prepare for reopening of liaison office

Move comes ahead of expected senior delegation from Rabat next month, as ties between two countries rapidly expand

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat (2nd-L) and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner (3rd-L) meet with Moroccan King Mohammed VI (C) at the royal palace in Rabat, Morocco, December 22, 2020. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat (2nd-L) and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner (3rd-L) meet with Moroccan King Mohammed VI (C) at the royal palace in Rabat, Morocco, December 22, 2020. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

A team of Moroccan diplomats arrived in Israel Sunday night to begin laying the groundwork for the reopening of a liaison office in Tel Aviv next month.

Last week, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita announced that the country planned to reopen its diplomatic office in Israel within two to three weeks, after closing it some 20 years ago in a sign of solidarity with the Palestinians upon the outbreak of the Second Intifada.

Though the liaison office — a step down from a full embassy — was shuttered in 2000, the Moroccan government maintained ownership of the property, allowing for its rapid reopening following the announcement on December 10 that the two countries were renewing ties.

Israel’s liaison office in Rabat was similarly closed in 2000 in response to Morocco’s decision but was also never sold. Though Israel plans to quickly reopen its office as well, no official date has been given.

Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat speaks to the press at the royal palace in Rabat, Morocco, December 22, 2020. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

The Moroccan team that arrived Sunday night was due to hold a number of meetings with the Foreign Ministry in the coming days to prepare for the arrival of an official high-level delegation next month and the reopening of the liaison office, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel, speaking on condition of anonymity.

With its announcement of normalization earlier this month, Morocco became 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.

Last week, a joint Israeli-American delegation led by National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner visited Rabat to sign a trilateral declaration that cemented the plans to renew ties between Israel and Morocco and to affirm that the United States would recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara region.

Israeli and Moroccan officials sign a bilateral agreement at the royal palace in Rabat, Morocco, December 22, 2020. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

A small number of bilateral agreements between Jerusalem and Rabat were signed during that trip, with plans to further expand ties between the two countries, including through direct flights beginning early next year.

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

In the trilateral declaration signed in Rabat last week, the two announced their intention to “immediately resume full official contacts between Israeli and Moroccan counterparts and establish full diplomatic, peaceful and friendly relations.”

On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a phone call with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, the first time they had spoken since the normalization deal was announced earlier this month.

“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.

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)

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.

During the conversation, Netanyahu extended an invitation for the king 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.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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