Could peace deal with Morocco herald impending accord with Saudi Arabia?

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, and Moroccan King Mohammed VI | Photo: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO, AFP

According to officials in Riyadh, the Saudi position on the prospect of normalization with Israel has changed in recent weeks. This change might be due to the close relations between Rabat and Riyadh.

Thursday’s announcement that Israel and Morocco will normalize relations largely reflects the intricate network of interests in the Middle East. It also highlights President Trump’s clout in shaping the new reality of peace between Israel and moderate Sunni countries.

The peace deal is an immense diplomatic achievement for King Mohammed and his country, even more so than for Israel. And it’s possible it won’t be the last such agreement before US President Donald Trump leaves the White House.

Trump’s senior adviser, Jared Kushner, said after the peace announcement with Morocco that “normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia is inevitable.”

Diplomats in the UAE and Morocco confirmed to Israel Hayom that officials in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi were instrumental in the Israel – Morocco peace deal.

Importantly, according to officials in Riyadh, the Saudi position on the prospect of normalization with Israel has changed in recent weeks. This is due to the close relations between Rabat and Riyadh. Hence the possibility of the Saudi monarchy making a similar move with Israel in the near future.

The English-language newspaper Arab News, which is owned by the Saudi royal family, even ran a complimentary story about the Israeli-Moroccan deal. Observers interpret this as potentially laying the groundwork for something similar between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Jerusalem and Rabat could have had diplomatic relations even before the recent Israel – Arab peace deals. Israel and Morocco built an infrastructure for such a move in the mid-1990s.

But then the Second Intifada erupted in 2000. And Operation Defensive Shield followed, to repel the waves of suicide bombings emanating from the West Bank. Defensive Shield upended Moroccan public opinion, whereupon Rabat put the fledgling diplomatic relationship with Israel on hold.

Opening of embassies – in the first few months of 2021

Nonetheless, over the following decades, the two countries never severed their relationship and even bolstered them under the Trump administration. The entire diplomatic journey is to culminate in the opening of embassies in Rabat and Tel Aviv in the first months of 2021.

Morocco and the sovereignty it wishes to apply in Western Sahara are reminiscent of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And herein lay Morocco’s tremendous diplomatic victory, because the international community doesn’t recognize that sovereignty. This is similar to the Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria. The US recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara was a dramatic, key victory for King Mohammed.

However, Rabat had other reasons as well to strike the peace deal. Its economy is largely dependent on tourism. Thus Morocco greatly suffered due to COVID, but it will now receive generous economic aid from the US.

King Mohammed VI was prudent enough to realize that president-elect Joe Biden’s administration wouldn’t offer anything close. Thus, now would be the time to take the leap and join the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan before the doors slammed shut.

The peace deals are being received with mixed emotions

Full diplomatic relations with Israel should give Morocco a broad range of Israeli know-how in the fields of technology, agriculture and drinking water, where Morocco is desperate for help.

And this is even before mentioning the security and intelligence cooperation the countries’ security services have secretly maintained for decades already (ever since the immigration of Moroccan Jews to Israel in the 1950s and the sinking of the Egoz immigrant ship). This cooperation will now expand and flourish in light of the mutual security challenges both countries face.

The Abraham Accords and the normalization treaty with Sudan caused mixed feelings in their respective Arab publics. In Morocco, too, there are many who support peace with Israel but also more than a few who oppose it.

André Azoulay is a senior adviser to the Moroccan king and a prominent member of the country’s Jewish community. A key architect of the peace agreement, he told Israel Hayom: “This is a dramatic and important initiative. Its ramifications will lead other Arab and Muslim countries to normalize relations with Israel.”

(Israel Hayom).

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