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Morocco’s FM on normalization: Relations with Israel were ‘already normal’

Nasser Bourita says ties ‘are special and can’t be compared’ to those Israel has with other Arab states, citing local Jewish community and Israelis of Moroccan descent

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

Morocco’s relations with Israel are unique in the Arab world and bilateral ties were “already normal” before a normalization deal was announced, Morocco’s foreign minister told Israeli media Sunday.

Morocco on Thursday announced a “resumption of relations” with Israel, shortly after US President Donald Trump tweeted that Rabat and the Jewish state had “agreed to full diplomatic relations.”

Israel and Morocco established low-level diplomatic relations during the 1990s following a thawing of ties between Israel and the Palestinians. Those contacts, however, were suspended in 2002 in response to the Second Intifada. Since then, however, the relationship has continued informally, with tens of thousands of Israelis traveling to Morocco every year.

Morocco’s announcement is widely seen as making it the fourth Arab country this year to unveil plans to normalize ties with Israel through a US-brokered deal, following the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

People hold a large Palestinian flag during a protest against normalizing relations with Israel, in Rabat, Morocco, September 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy)

But in an interview with the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper on Sunday, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said: “Israel’s relations with Morocco are special and can’t be compared to the relations that Israel has with any other Arab country.”

“From our perspective, we aren’t talking about normalization because relations were already normal. We’re talking about [re-formalizing] the relations between the countries to the relations we had, because there have been relations the entire time. They never stopped.”

In this file photo taken on October 13, 2017, Moroccan Jews and Israeli Jewish tourists participate in a religious ceremony to observe the holiday of Sukkot (the Feast of the Tabernacles) at a synagogue in the “Mellah” Jewish quarter of the Medina in Marrakesh (FADEL SENNA / AFP)

A palace statement last week said that King Mohammed VI had agreed to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel with “minimal delay.” That followed Trump’s recognition of Morocco’s contested sovereignty in Western Sahara, infuriating the Algerian-backed Polisario Front, which controls about one-fifth of the vast, arid region.

Bourita, in the interview, highlighted Morocco’s enduring connection to Israel through its domestic Jewish community and the estimated 700,000 Israeli Jews of Moroccan descent.

“Morocco has an important history with the Jewish community, a history that is special in the Arab world,” he told the paper. “It’s my understanding that just this past year 70,000 Israelis came to visit here.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets with Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 27, 2018. (Mohamad Torokman, Pool via AP)

The Palestinians have denounced the string of normalization deals, which broke with decades of Arab League consensus that there should be no recognition of Israel until it agrees to a peace that includes the creation of a Palestinian state.

But the Palestinian Authority has yet to comment on the agreement between Israel and Morocco, while the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups denounced it as a “betrayal.”

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI phoned PA President Mahmoud Abbas to stress his unshakable commitment to the Palestinians, while the North African kingdom’s Islamist prime minister lashed out at Trump’s peace plan and alleged Israeli efforts to “Judaize” Jerusalem.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

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