Report: Trump spat with top Republican created opening for Israel-Morocco deal

Kushner saw recent Trump break with Senator Jim Inhofe, who has long opposed US recognizing Rabat’s hold on Western Sahara, as opportunity to push accord

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., hugs US President Donald Trump as he arrives at Tulsa International Airport on June 20, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla. (AP/Evan Vucci)
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., hugs US President Donald Trump as he arrives at Tulsa International Airport on June 20, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla. (AP/Evan Vucci)

A falling out between US President Donald Trump and top Republican Senator Jim Inhofe created the opening that led to the White House recognizing the north African kingdom’s claim over Western Sahara in exchange for Rabat agreeing to normalize ties with Israel, Axios reported Friday.

Trump announced Thursday that Jerusalem and Rabat would establish full diplomatic relations after 20 years of disconnect, in a move hailed by all sides and one that marks the fourth Arab-Israeli agreement in four months.

According to the report, the formula has been on the table for several years, but was repeatedly blocked by Inhofe, a close ally of Trump, who advised the president against recognizing Morocco’s claim over the disputed region on the northwest corner of Africa,

Inhofe, from Oklahoma, is one of the most prominent US backers of the Polisario Front of Sahrawi rebels fighting to end what they deem to be the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara.

But Trump soured on Inhofe earlier this month after the Republican chair of the Arms Services Committee refused to include a series of provisions the president was demanding for the National Defense Authorization Act.

These included one to repeal protections for social media giants and another to kill a clause aimed at renaming military installations named after Confederate leaders, Axios reported.

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Republican members of Congress on immigration in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Washington. From left, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Trump, and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Inhofe, concerned that Trump was pushing an agenda outside the scope of the NDAA and worried that such provisions would damage the legislation’s chances of being passed, refused Trump’s demands.

“This is the only chance to get our bill passed,” Axios quotes Inhofe as having shouted at the president on speakerphone as he walked through the Capital last week.

Not appreciating Inhofe’s stance, Trump took to Twitter to assert that a failure to stand up to social media companies risked damaging US national security. He went on to threaten to veto if the NDAA was passed without the provisions he demanded.

At this point, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, along with Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows and peace envoy Avi Berkowitz identified an opening to convince the president to recognize Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara in exchange for the kingdom agreeing to normalize with Israel, Axios said, citing sources briefed on the matter.

Kushner and Berkowitz had been pursuing such an agreement for the past two years. The idea for it was originally proposed by a group of former Israeli officials led by former Mossad deputy director Ram Ben Barak, who now is an MK in the Yesh Atid opposition party.

He had been running a firm that did business in Morocco. There he met Yariv Elbaz, a prominent Jewish food retailer with close ties to Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.

In 2018, Ben Barak and Elbaz proposed the idea of Western Saraha recognition for Israeli normalization with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office along with then-US peace envoy Jason Greenblatt as well as Bourita. The initiative stalled, but ties were forged between Elbaz and senior officials in all three countries, Axios said.

A year later, Kushner met with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, who highlighted to the senior adviser the importance of US recognition of Rabat’s claim to Western Sahara.

Talks on the matter would continue over the following months. Meanwhile, Israeli officials were encouraging Washington to package its recognition of Western Sahara in exchange for Rabat agreeing to normalize with Israel.

Toward the end of 2019, the proposal was put forward by the White House and the sides nearly reached an agreement, but Inhofe and then-national security adviser John Bolton aggressively opposed the move. Deeming that he couldn’t lose the support of Inhofe in the Senate, Trump agreed to hold back on the agreement, the report said.

But after his falling out with Inhofe, Trump’s position on the matter changed, leading him to give Kushner the green light to pursue an agreement with Morocco. Rabat said yes, and Netanyahu agreed as well. However, Axios reported that the Israeli premier was irked over the wording of Morocco’s announcement of the deal in addition to not being on the Thursday phone call between Trump and King Mohammed VI.

The report did not specify which clauses angered Netanyahu.

More upset was Inhofe who gave a stinging speech from the Senate floor. “I am saddened that the rights of the Western Saharan people have been traded away…I’m thinking about them and all the Sahrawians today,” he said.

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