A cascade of normalizations
The four diplomatic normalizations in 2020 follow those of Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. The Arab League, which now has 24 members, established a boycott of the Jewish state at its inception in 1948, which has waned over the years due to commercial needs and is now strictly enforced only by Syria. Israel has maintained unofficial commercial and security relations with a number of Arab countries for the past decade. Notably, it has maintained a secret embassy in Bahrain for eleven years. The Sultanate of Oman, which had received the Israeli prime minister in 2019, could be the next country to normalize relations with Israel, pending the “biggie,” given its moral and religious leadership, that is Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh is not officially considering such normalization, but its security, technological and commercial cooperation, via front companies, with Israel for years has been an open secret. The former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu made a secret and unprecedented visit to Saudi Arabia a few months ago. Nor does any normalization seem likely in the short term with Lebanon, Qatar, and Kuwait. [i]
The Palestinians had denounced the normalization agreements between Israel and Arab countries as a “betrayal“, as the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had been considered a sine qua non condition for any normalization.
In the wake of the announcement of normalization with Israel, Moroccan King Mohammed VI assured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Morocco’s continued “permanent and sustained commitment to the just Palestinian cause. “
The Palestinian cause continues to mobilize civil society, some far-left parties, and Islamists, who remain opposed to any normalization of relations with the Jewish state. This visit is “considered an insult to Moroccans and a betrayal of Palestine and its people,” said the National Action Group for Palestine in Morocco in a statement released Monday, August 9, 2021.
Wednesday, August 11, 2021, in a statement in Washington, the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said on the occasion of the visit to the Kingdom of the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yair Lapid, heading an official delegation: “We welcome the visit by Israeli Foreign Minister @yairlapid to Morocco and congratulate the Kingdom of Morocco and Israel on the reopening of the Israeli Liaison Office in Rabat. We will continue to work with Israel and Morocco to strengthen all aspects of our partnerships. “
“The United States will continue to work with Israel and Morocco to strengthen all aspects of our partnerships and create a more peaceful, secure, and prosperous future for all the people of the Middle East,” Blinken pointed out in a statement issued on the occasion of the visit by Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to the Kingdom of Morocco.
And via State Department spokesman Ned Price, during his daily briefing, Washington congratulates “enthusiastically two close partners, Morocco and Israel, as Morocco welcomes today Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, for his first visit to the kingdom. “
This, Ned Price added, is “another important step in strengthening their relationship. We believe that normalized relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors create new opportunities for peace and prosperity to flourish in the region. ” [ii]
He further said, noting that “the Moroccan-Israeli relationship has already generated real benefits for both countries, including direct commercial flights, economic cooperation and the opening of liaison offices. “
While “welcoming” the visit, the head of U.S. diplomacy Secretary Blinken said that “this trip, the first to Morocco by an Israeli foreign minister since the announcement of the agreement to establish full diplomatic relations between the State of Israel and the Kingdom of Morocco – and the reopening of the Israeli liaison office in Rabat, are important for Israel, Morocco and the region at large. “
Speaking at a press briefing following talks with his Israeli counterpart, Bourita stressed that the resumption of relations with Israel “reflects the will of HM King Mohammed VI to reactivate the mechanisms of cooperation between the two countries and to relaunch regular contacts, within the framework of healthy and friendly diplomatic ties.”
The resumption of relations with Israel expresses a will and a conviction, expressed by the Sovereign, who personally chaired last December the signing of the tripartite agreement (Morocco-Israel-US), which laid the foundations of this bilateral relationship that we are building, Bourita said. [iii]
Historic official visit
The head of Israeli diplomacy, Yair Lapid, and his delegation arrived in Rabat on August 11, 2021, for a two-day official visit. Discovery of the Mohammed-V mausoleum, face-to-face meetings, working meetings… The first official visit of an Israeli minister to Morocco is not limited to the classic program of bilateral meetings: Morocco is still home to a Jewish community and preserves its Jewish heritage. As for the Hebrew State, it is the home of one of the most important diasporas of Moroccan origin in the world.
The visit comes eight months after the normalization of relations between Israel and Morocco. “We have landed in Morocco. Proud to represent Israel during this historic visit,” wrote Lapid on Twitter as the plane of Israel’s national carrier El Al landed.
And a historic visit by more than one Israeli leader. The spectacular process of normalization of relations between the Hebrew State and Arab countries has reached a new stage, this Wednesday, August 11, 2021, with the visit of the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yair Lapid, to Morocco.
He inaugurated on Thursday, August 12, 2021, Israel’s representative office in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, and posted on his Twitter account photos of the inauguration ceremony of this important office, during which the Moroccan side was represented by Mohcine Jazouli, Minister Delegate to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, African Cooperation and Affairs of Moroccans Residing Abroad. Yair Lapid described the inauguration of the Israeli liaison office as a “historic moment“.
Morocco is the fourth Arab country to have announced last year the normalization of its relations with Israel, after the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, in return for U.S. recognition of the sovereignty it claims over the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara. This first official visit comes just over two weeks after the launch of direct commercial flights between Israel and Morocco.
Yair Lapid’s visit to Rabat follows an unprecedented trip in June 2021 to the United Arab Emirates, where he inaugurated an Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi.
Morocco’s Jewish community is the largest in North Africa, with about 3,000 people, and the 700,000 Israelis of Moroccan descent have often maintained strong ties to their home country. [iv] Israel and Morocco had already semi-official relations in the 1990s, before the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising intifada in 2000. Palestinians have condemned the normalization agreements between the Arab states and Israel as a betrayal of their cause.
Present since antiquity, the Jewish community in Morocco was strengthened in the fifteenth century by the expulsion of Jews from Spain. [v] It reached about 250,000 souls by the end of the 1940s, or about 10% of the population. Many left after the creation of Israel in 1948 and the six-day war in 1967.
Priority for working together to fight poverty, ignorance, drought, and epidemics
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and his Moroccan counterpart Nasser Bourita signed three agreements in Rabat on Wednesday, August 11, 2021, at a joint press conference. The agreements cover political cooperation, aviation, and culture, in the first visit to Morocco by a senior Israeli official, eight months after the normalization of relations between the two countries.
“Something is happening in the Middle East. People and leaders are looking at Libya, Syria, and Lebanon and saying, ‘This is not what we want for our children. This is not what we want for ourselves,'” the Israeli foreign minister said. “The only war worth fighting is not against our fellow man, or against anyone who prays differently from us. The only war that makes sense is the one against poverty, ignorance, epidemics, and drought,” he said. “This ancient peace and friendship are being restored by people who know how to rethink old conflicts. Above all, by His Majesty King Mohammed VI, by his vision and his courage. We are grateful to him,” he added during his speech.
“The agreements we will sign will bring our countries innovations and opportunities for the benefit of our children – and their children – for years to come. Today, we are not good politicians, we are good parents,” he continued.
Morocco and Israel had also signed in July 2021 in Rabat a cooperation agreement on cyber defense, covering “operational cooperation, research, development and information sharing,” said on Facebook the Israeli National Directorate of Cybersecurity.
Recently, the kingdom was accused of using the Pegasus spy software, designed by the Israeli company NSO, according to an investigation by a consortium of international media. Rabat has categorically denied “these false and unfounded allegations” and initiated legal proceedings.
Israeli tourists visit Morocco: return to the land of ancestors
Hundreds of tourists arrived in Marrakech on the first direct commercial flight from Israel on July 25, 2021. The first air link between Tel Aviv and Marrakech comes eight months after the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Two to three commercial flights between the two cities are planned per week.
“This is a historic moment, this flight can only strengthen the bridge between Israel and Morocco,” said Benjamin Ron, a tour guide who came to discover the country and prospect for more Israeli tourists to the kingdom. [vi]
The first direct commercial flight between Israel and Morocco landed Sunday at around 1 p.m. (local time) in the country’s tourist capital: Marrakesh. As soon as the plane landed, the airport tarmac was abuzz with cheers and cries of elation. The Israeli tourists were greeted with dates, cakes, and mint tea at a welcoming ceremony organized in their honor with oboe music and drums beat in the background.
“I am originally from Marrakech. I returned there about thirty times but this time the trip has a special taste, it’s like the first time!” said Pinhas Moyal, sporting a face mask and a bag with the colors of the Moroccan flag.
This first air link between Tel Aviv and Marrakech was operated aboard a plane of the Israeli carrier Israir. The company’s spokeswoman, Tali Leibovitz, said that two to three commercial flights between the two cities were planned per week. “I am a child of Morocco (…). This is the umpteenth time I return, today in exceptional circumstances,” said Yehuda Lancry, 73 years old Moroccan Jew.
Another flight, of the Israeli national airline El-Al, landed, in turn, Sunday afternoon on July 25, 2021, at Marrakech Menara airport. The company said there would be five flights a week to the Ochre City and Casablanca. “How good it is to return to the land of my ancestors! We finally breathe after two years of undergoing the Covid predicament, “told AFP Sophie Levi, 58, from Casablanca.
Before the pandemic, the 50,000 to 70,000 tourists who came to Morocco each year, many of them from Israel had to transit through other countries. By next year, Rabat expects 200,000 Israeli tourists per year, barring complications from the pandemic, “this figure could eventually increase,” says Zoubir Bouhoute, a Moroccan tourism expert.
Morocco is the country, which still has the largest Jewish community in North Africa (about 3,000 people), and recognizes its “Jewish Legacy” clearly in its constitution. But the Palestinian cause still mobilizes civil society and some far-left political parties and Islamists remain opposed to normalizing relations with Israel.
Looking ahead at the future
Israel and Morocco have agreed to open mutual embassies in “a few months,” the head of Israeli diplomacy announced Thursday, August 12, 2021, at the end of his first visit to the kingdom since the normalization of relations between the two countries.
“This morning with Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, we decided to open embassies in Jerusalem and Morocco in a few months,” said Yair Lapid at a press conference in Casablanca.
Mr. Lapid welcomed, again, the normalization agreements with Arab countries, indicating that other countries would follow this path, without naming them, and announced the upcoming opening of an Israeli embassy in Bahrain.
On the Israeli-Palestinian issue, he reaffirmed that he is in favor of the creation of two states to resolve the conflict, but “does not currently see the possibility of moving forward on this path with the current Palestinian leadership and the structure of the Israeli executive. “
Mr. Bourita said he discussed on Wednesday, August 11, 2021, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with his Israeli counterpart, stressing the need to “resume negotiations” to “achieve a solution on the basis of two states. “ [vii]
On the other hand, Yair Lapid said he discussed with his Moroccan counterpart their “concerns about the role played by Algeria in the region, its rapprochement with Iran and the campaign it has conducted against the admission of Israel as an observer member of the African Union. “
During this visit, a letter from the Israeli president, Isaac Herzog, inviting the king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, to visit Israel was given to the head of Moroccan diplomacy.
The former Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had also invited the monarch at the end of 2020, an invitation that remained without an official response.
[i] Bourdillon, Yves. “ Visite historique du patron de la diplomatie israélienne au Maroc, “ Les Echos dated August 11, 2021. https://www.lesechos.fr/monde/afrique-moyen-orient/visite-historique-du-patron-de-la-diplomatie-israelienne-au-maroc-1338182
[ii] The North Africa Post. “US Secretary of State lauds ‘significant’ first post-normalization visit by Lapid in Morocco, “The North Africa Post-dated August 12, 2O21. https://northafricapost.com/51657-us-secretary-of-state-lauds-significant-first-post-normalization-visit-by-lapid-in-morocco.html
[iii] MAP. “US Will Continue to Work with Morocco and Israel to Create ‘More Peaceful, Secure, Prosperous Future’ in the Middle East – Blinken, “Map News dated August 12, 2021. https://www.mapnews.ma/en/actualites/politics/us-will-continue-work-morocco-and-israel-create-more-peaceful-secure-prosperous
[iv] Chtatou, Mohamed. “Emigration of Jews of Morocco to Israel in 20th Century, “Eurasia Review dated March 5, 2018. https://www.eurasiareview.com/05032018-emigration-of-jews-of-morocco-to-israel-in-20th-century-analysis/
[v] Chtatou, Mohamed. “Expulsion of Sephardic Jews from Spain in 1492 and their Relocation and Success in Morocco, “Eurasia Review dated September 2019. https://www.eurasiareview.com/05092019-expulsion-of-sephardic-jews-from-spain-in-1492-and-their-relocation-and-success-in-morocco-analysis/
[vi] Le Monde. “ Maroc : des centaines de touristes sont arrivés à Marrakech par le premier vol commercial direct depuis Israël, “Le Monde dated July 26, 2021. https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2021/07/26/maroc-arrivee-a-marrakech-de-centaines-de-touristes-israeliens_6089542_3212.html
[vii] Chtatou, Mohamed. “Could Morocco Help Negotiate between Israel and Hamas? “Washington Institute dated July 26, 2021. https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/could-morocco-help-negotiate-between-israel-and-hamas