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The New Middle East According to Rabat

The foreign ministers of Morocco, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt met Sunday, March 27, and Monday, March 28, 2022, in Israel at the invitation of Israeli Foreign Minister Lapid in the presence of the American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken.

The Negev Summit was organized at the last minute during US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s tour of the Middle East and North Africa. Arriving in Tel-Aviv on Saturday evening March 26, he was in Ramallah on Sunday, March 27, 2022, and in Morocco and Algeria the rest of the week.

Iran and the rise of a new Middle East

Morocco was present at the Negev Summit in Israel, in the person of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Rabat made a point of sharing with the five countries present – United States, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt – convergent, if not common, concerns. The agenda foregrounded some form of “alliance” against Iran. It was all the more binding as it appears that the conclusion of a new Iranian nuclear agreement would be imminent.

Josep Borrel, head of European diplomacy, said on Saturday, March 26, 2022, on the sidelines of the Doha Forum (Qatar), that this agreement in negotiation with the great powers is a “matter of days“. An affirmation linked to the fact that on the same day, the EU coordinator in charge of supervising the talks, Enrique Mora, arrived in Tehran. An agenda not yet confirmed by the spokesman for American diplomacy, Ned Price, who declared that an agreement was “neither imminent nor certain“.

One fact is certain: the comeback of Tehran on the international scene will have political, financial, and military consequences not only for this country but also for its relays in the region (Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, etc.). Morocco, for its part, has troubled relations with the Shiite regime. Four years ago, on May 1, 2018, Rabat broke off diplomatic relations by invoking the military support of the Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah – financed by the Iranian regime – to the militias of the separatist movement “Polisario”. Relations were restored in February 2014 after a previous break in March 2009 due to Tehran’s interference in Bahrain’s internal affairs and Shia proselytism in Morocco.

Support for the Palestinian cause

Like the other officials participating in the summit, Nasser Bourita condemned the terrorist attack committed the day before in Hedera which caused the death of two policemen by two Arab-Israelis, presented as close to the Daesh organization. He said this meeting is “the best response to such attacks”; and went on to add that ‘’the presence of Morocco is a confirmation of the deep relations linking the two countries and the Moroccan community to the Jewish community in Israel“; and that Rabat once again expresses its support for the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on the basis of the 1967 borders and with a Palestinian State whose capital is Al Quds-Est. Finally, he concluded by formulating a wish: that of the six participants in the Negev summit could hopefully meet next “in a different desert, but with the same spirit” i.e. in the Moroccan Sahara.

The Negev Summit, held on March 27-28, is a success for Israel. It was organized at high speed on the initiative of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yair Lapid, in Sde Boker – where lived David Ben Gurion, founder of the State of Israel and first Prime of the Hebrew State; it is also there, in this historic place, that his burial and that of his wife are located.

The American official was unable to obtain from Naftali Bennett an invitation from Jordan or from the Palestinian leadership. But there is more to Israel than that, which is gaining value not only for the venue chosen but also for the agenda selected. Reference is made to efforts to bring together and build an effective alliance against Iran – it is seen as a threat to all the players present, in one capacity or another. Saudi Arabia was not present, nor did it join the Abraham Accords. Officially, Tel Aviv and Riyadh are not allies. But both are actively working to strengthen regional unity against Tehran (intelligence sharing, regional missile alerts, defense systems, …).

Ukraine / Middle East: “double standards”

For Morocco, this new alliance cannot downgrade or even evacuate other major issues in the region. The West has mobilized a lot about the crisis in Ukraine opened since February 24, 2022. In the same line, Rabat is concerned about the persistent tensions in the Middle East. A state of mind expressed by two strategic countries of the Gulf, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who regretted the lack of attention paid to the conflicts in the region, and this for decades. Qatar’s Foreign Minister, Mohammed Ben Abderrahmane Al-Thani, expressed his concern in strong terms: “The humanitarian suffering that we see in Ukraine (…) has existed in many countries in this region for years. We have never seen an international response to this suffering,” he added during the roundtable at the Doha Forum, referring in particular to “the brutality against the Syrian people, the Palestinians, the Libyans, the Iraqis, the Afghans.’’

In his view, the crisis in Ukraine should serve as a “wake-up call“; it should lead the international community to pay more attention to the Middle East “with the same commitment“. Political crises and conflicts have indeed caused some of the worst humanitarian tragedies in the world, notably in Yemen and Syria. An assessment that was shared by the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Faisal Ben Farhan, recalling that the commitment of the international community for Ukraine is “quite different” from that for the countries of the Middle East …

With the success of the Negev Summit Israel has thus strongly reinforced its regional legitimacy and importance for its partners who signed the “Abraham Accords”, Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. To this must be added Egypt, with which a Peace Treaty was signed in 1979. By their mere presence, the Foreign Ministers of these four allied countries give content and a new dimension to relations with Israel. The Negev meeting came just a week after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hosted Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. This summit was warm. Highly publicized too.

It should be noted, moreover, that the Negev summit coincided with a scheduled visit to Ramallah by King Abdallah of Jordan. On his agenda are ways to ease tensions between Israelis and Palestinians on the eve of Ramadan. But it is obvious that the major evolution that the region is experiencing has been just as important. Before leaving for the Negev summit, Anthony Blinken, US Secretary of State, met with Israeli leaders and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

For a new dynamic

Working for peace and seeking a solution to the Palestinian question and the Arab-Israeli conflict: are the two credos of Moroccan diplomacy. This calls for “a new dynamic for peace” to be built on consistent foundations. Concrete stages are to be defined so that the people have a clear apprehension and that they adhere; this also leads to opening up “promising prospects for the youth and the peoples of our region”, said the Moroccan Foreign minister. ‘Peace is the benchmark around which we must mobilize, not through the reciprocal ignorance of each other, but through the combination of efforts around shared values ​​and common interests,’’ he went on to say. Morocco is clear in this regard, the summit of the Negev carries a double message: the first, positive, to the inhabitants of the region; the second, marked with the seal of firmness, targets those who work directly or through auxiliaries countries present at this meeting are determined to defend their values ​​and their interests and protect this dynamic, according to Rabat.

Neither reluctance nor ambiguity. The nature and scope of Rabat’s relations with Washington is part of this same approach. The visit to the Kingdom by the American Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, is the translation and extension of this diplomatic doctrine. It is a shared commitment to security and prosperity; it is the expression of a deep and lasting relationship; finally, it is the corollary of a bilateral strategic partnership between Morocco and the United States. Moroccan diplomacy is proactive, mobilized, and backed by constants and principles. It bore fruit, barely two weeks ago, with the normalization brought about by Madrid’s new position on the Moroccan Sahara issue and the prevalence of the proposal for internal autonomy as the only credible, serious and realistic solution. Tel Aviv has just taken a similar position, through Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Monday, March 28, 2022, when he declared that the two countries would work together to counter attempts to weaken sovereignty and Moroccan territorial integrity.

You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu

About the Author
Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of “MENA region area studies” at Université Internationale de Rabat -UIR- and of “Education” at Université Mohammed V in Rabat, as well. Besides, he is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, American, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islamism and religious terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism. During 2015 he worked as Program Director with the USAID/CHEMONICS educational project entitled: “Reading for Success: A Small Scale Experimentation” in cooperation with the Moroccan Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training (MENFP). He recently taught cultural studies to Semester abroad students with AMIDEAST, IES and CIEE study abroad programs in Morocco insuring such courses as: “Introduction to Moroccan Culture,” “Contemporary North African History,” “Arab Spring,” “Amazigh Culture,” “Moroccan Jewish Legacy,” “Community-Based Learning” (internship with civil society organizations). He is, also, currently teaching “Communication Skills” and “Translation and Interpreting” to master students at The Institute for Leadership and Communication Studies –ILCS- in Rabat, Morocco and supervising several Fulbright students in areas of religion and culture in Morocco. He has taught in the past some courses in universities in the USA, Spain, France, Italy, England and Greece.
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