News of an American-backed agreement for Israel and Morocco to normalize ties quickly made headlines around the world on Thursday evening. But viewers of official Palestinian Authority television heard nothing about it on the hour-long nightly news broadcast, as officials in Ramallah stayed mum on the story.
By contrast, the PA’s main rivals, terror groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, lambasted Morocco’s decision to normalize ties with Israel in a deal brokered by outgoing US President Donald Trump.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad both branded Morocco’s decision to normalize ties with Israel — the fourth Arab state to do so in recent months — a “betrayal.”
“Normalization by Morocco with the ‘Israeli’ occupation is a betrayal of Jerusalem and of Palestine,” Islamic Jihad said. “We trust that the Morrocan people will utterly refuse this normalization.”
“Hamas condemns the Moroccan-Zionist declaration of normalization of relations between them, in an odious move that is not befitting of Morocco, and does not express the brotherly Moroccan people who have stood and are still with Palestine, Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa in all circumstances and stations,” Hamas said.
Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem called the Morrocan decision to normalize “a political sin.”
“This sin does not serve the Palestinian cause, and the occupation exploits every act of normalization to increase its aggressive policies against our people,” Qassem said.
Trump announced earlier Thursday that Israel and Morocco have agreed to establish full diplomatic relations. As part of the announcement, Trump said that the US would recognize Morocco’s claim over the disputed Western Sahara region — a long-time ambition of the kingdom, which views control of the region as a key interest.
Israel and Morocco 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 of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000. Since then, however, the informal ties have continued, and an estimated 50,000 Israelis travel to Morocco each year on trips, learning about the Jewish community and retracing family histories.
Many observers have speculated that Morocco’s decision to renew and deepen relations now was a quid pro quo for the United States’s decision to recognize Western Sahara — a move Rabat knew would be a non-starter with the incoming Biden administration.
In an interview with the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bureita preferred to emphasize the sovereignty victory for Morocco rather than normalization.
“This is a fundamental transformation in the situation, under the leadership of his Majesty the King,” Bureita said. “Now even great powers admit that there is no solution to the problem of Western Sahara except through Morrocan sovereignty.”
Morocco is the fourth Arab nation to recognize Israel as the administration seeks to expand its “Abraham Accords” framework, which began over the summer with an agreement between the Jewish state and the United Arab Emirates.
Bahrain and Sudan have followed suit and administration officials have also been trying to bring Saudi Arabia into the fold.
As of early Friday, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority had yet to issue a statement on the deal.
Several senior PA officials could not be reached for a request to comment. One senior official in the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Bassem al-Salhi, told Reuters that the deal was “unacceptable,” as it violated the Arab Peace Initiative, which conditions such normalization on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
The Moroccan royal court announced on Thursday night that King Mohammad VI had called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to inform him both of the normalization decision and of his country’s support for the Palestinian cause.
According to the Moroccan royal court, in his conversation with Abbas the Moroccan monarch stressed his support for the two-state solution, and stated that negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis were “the only way to reach a final, lasting and comprehensive solution to this conflict,” the statement said.
“His Highness, may God preserve him, told the Palestinian President that his position was unshakeably supportive of the Palestinian cause. He told the Palestinian president that he had inherited it from his father Hassan II,” the statement said.
In his conversation with Abbas, Mohammad VI vigorously resisted the notion that he had sold out the Palestinian cause in exchange for US recognition of a core Moroccan interest — Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
“His Majesty stressed that Morocco always puts the Palestinian issue at the same level as the issue of the Sahara, and that Morocco’s work to consolidate its Moroccanness will never be, neither today nor in the future, at the expense of the Palestinian people’s struggle for their legitimate rights,” Mohammad said in a statement.
The king also invoked Morocco’s historic ties with its Jewish community in his phone call with the Palestinian leader.
“The King of Morocco has a special status, and he has distinguished relations with the Jewish community of Moroccan origin, including hundreds of thousands of Moroccan Jews in Israel,” the king told Abbas, according to the statement.
There was no immediate comment on the phone call from Ramallah.