Western Sahara map in backdrop of Netanyahu clip said to spark fury in Morocco

Foreign Ministry spokesperson reportedly says map of Middle East, which famously hangs in PM’s office, is ‘old’ and will be replaced

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video produced by his office in which he welcomes the normalization deal between Israel and Morocco. (Twitter screen capture)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video produced by his office in which he welcomes the normalization deal between Israel and Morocco. (Twitter screen capture)

A map delineating Morocco from Western Sahara hanging in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office — and seen in the background of a recent video clip — has reportedly sparked outrage in the Arab country, which signed a normalization detail with Israel last week

In exchange for Morocco normalizing ties with Israel, the United States agreed to recognize Morocco’s claims over Western Sahara.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson told a Moroccan media outlet in response to criticism that the map was “old” and would be replaced, the Kan public broadcaster reported Monday.

“It will be corrected in the new maps that appear,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying.

Pro-independence Polisario Front rebel soldiers pray in the Western Sahara village of Tifariti as they commemorate the 35th anniversary of the RASD (Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic), February 27, 2011. (AP Photo/Arturo Rodriguez)

Netanyahu often refers to the map of the Middle East that hangs behind his desk.

Earlier this month, after the normalization efforts between Jerusalem and Rabat were announced, the US adopted a “new official” map of Morocco that includes the territory of Western Sahara.

Western Sahara is a disputed and divided former Spanish colony, mostly under Morocco’s control, where tensions with the pro-independence Polisario Front have simmered since the 1970s.

Pro-independence Polisario Front rebel soldiers are seen during a military parade in the Western Sahara village of Tifariti, February 27, 2011, to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic. (AP Photo/Arturo Rodriguez)

The Polisario condemned “in the strongest terms the fact that outgoing American President Donald Trump attributes to Morocco something which does not belong” to the country, namely sovereignty over Western Sahara.

The movement dismissed the announcement and vowed to fight on until Moroccan forces withdraw from all of Western Sahara.

Netanyahu spoke on the phone with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI on Friday for the first time since the two countries agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations.

Last week, 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.

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.

US presidential adviser Jared Kushner, center, and National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, center-right, arrive at the Royal Palace in the Moroccan capital Rabat, December 22, 2020. (Fadel Senna/AFP)

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 the Catholic monarchy, from 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, often 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.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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