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Israel recognises Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara; What did that cost Morocco?

Israel recognises Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara; What did that cost Morocco?

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Politics The Truth

Sunday 23 July 202305:03 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

اعتراف إسرائيل بسيادة المغرب على "الصحراء الغربية" ودعوة نتانياهو ... ما دلالاتها وبأي ثمن؟

After more than two and a half years since the signing of the tripartite agreement between Morocco, Israel, and the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday, July 17 a significant decision: "Israel officially recognized Morocco's sovereignty over the Western Sahara." In his letter to King Mohammed VI, Netanyahu also expressed Israel's positive consideration of opening a consulate in the city of Dakhla.

A statement from the Moroccan Royal Court confirmed that the Israeli Prime Minister assured that "this stance will be reflected in all relevant works and documents of the Israeli government." He emphasized that the United Nations, regional and international organizations of which Israel is a member, and all countries with diplomatic relations with Israel will be informed of this decision.

This diplomatic shift comes a month after discussions between the Speaker of the Moroccan House of Representatives, Rachid Talbi Alami, and the Israeli Knesset Speaker, Amir Ohana. During a press conference on the sidelines of the talks hosted by Rabat on June 8th, Ohana urged the Israeli government to officially recognize the "Moroccanity of the Sahara."

The timing of this recognition.. Why now?

Despite the normalization of relations between Morocco and Israel since December 2020, Israel's position on recognizing Morocco's sovereignty over Western Sahara remained unclear until former Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid expressed support for the autonomy proposal in the Sahara during the first Negev Summit on March 28, 2022. This support eventually led to Israel's official recognition of Morocco's sovereignty over the Western Sahara.

Moroccan political analyst and international relations expert Hassan Balwan commented to Raseef22, "We can consider that Israel's recognition of the Moroccan Sahara came at a time when the region is experiencing geostrategic changes, whether related to the repercussions of the war in Ukraine, or the complexities of the Palestinian cause, as well as the critical developments in the Western Sahara issue. Therefore, this recognition presented a real opportunity to regain the momentum achieved by Morocco in resolving this long-standing artificial conflict."

He added, "The timing was perfect for announcing Israel's decision regarding Morocco's sovereignty over its southern regions, especially amid the relative calm in Palestinian territories, giving the decision its true dimensions and desired diplomatic objectives."

Why did they wait decades, only making this recognition now as if it were some historical achievement, especially with the way it was presented to Moroccan society? This question is being raised today to those who support this normalization

Aziz Hanawi, the General Secretary of the Moroccan Observatory for Anti-Normalization, raises a compelling question in his interview with Raseef22 on why has Israel refrained from recognizing Morocco's sovereignty over Western Sahara since 1975, when the conflict with the Polisario Front began, "Why did they wait decades, only making this recognition now as if it were a historical achievement, especially with the way it was presented for Moroccan society? This question is being raised today to those who support this normalization. We say that Israel and the United States have been blackmailing Morocco for years, using their influence to pressure it and manipulate its stance on normalization and so that it plays certain roles in the Jerusalem issue and thus receive support in the Sahara issue in return."

On the other side of the discussion, Saad Mertah, a member of the National Bureau of Youth for the Democratic Approach, shares his perspective with Raseef22. He believes that “this recent recognition by Israel comes amidst an internal crisis within government of the Zionist entity. As a result, they are utilizing their improved relations with reactionary Arab regimes as a political maneuver stating that this government is working on an unprecedented influence in the Arab world – an achievement previous governments failed to accomplish, and that it succeeded in creating internal contradictions among Arab states, ultimately further isolating the Palestinian Authority", according to Mertah.

The recognition decision.. A victory for the Moroccan cause or a potential threat?

Aziz Hanawi, in his discussion with Raseef22, expresses concern about the significant impact of the normalization of relations between Morocco and Israel on the Western Sahara issue. He asserts that "the Western Sahara issue, which is the first national cause for Moroccans, has been greatly damaged by the normalization of relations. This damage has had adverse effects on Morocco's national stance regarding Western Sahara, which the Moroccans liberated through the Green March, and protected with the lives of thousands of martyrs from the Royal Armed Forces, along with their substantial investment in its development with billions of dollars over forty-eight years."

He highlights the problematic narrative being propagated, telling Raseef22 that "today's normalization charade promotes the idea that the Sahara was one thing before Israel's recognition, and is something entirely different after it did. This portrayal deeply wounds the unified spirit of the Sahrawi citizens, and is a great blow to all Moroccans and specifically to the Sahrawis. The Sahara cause will be significantly damaged on a major level. Now, a unified Sahrawi might be perceived as a collaborator with Zionism, while the separatist Sahrawi is presented as a progressive liberation fighter against the Zionist entity. This divisive portrayal threatens the cohesive identity and unified spirit of Sahrawi citizens, causing potential harm to the Moroccan cause by fostering separatist tendencies or those who are silence and neutral among Sahrawis who will feel hesitant to express their unity due to its association with Zionism," he expressed.

This recognition deeply wounds the unified Sahrawi identity within Morocco, because a unified Sahrawi will now be perceived as a collaborator with Zionism, while the separatist Sahrawi is presented as a progressive liberation fighter against Israel

Saad Mertah shares a similar view, believing that Israel's recognition will not benefit Morocco but rather will only increase its dependence on Israel and its schemes. He tells Raseef22, "We are no longer talking about normalizing relations between Morocco and the Zionist entity. Rather, we are facing an act of rooting the Moroccan state in an emerging military alliance led by Israel, targeting Iran and its allies in the region. This will harm only Morocco, and may drag it into wars and conflicts in which the people have no interest, and the only beneficiary is Israel at the expense of Morocco."

However, Mohamed Bouden, President of the Atlas Center for the Analysis of Political and Institutional Indicators, argues differently. While speaking to Raseef22, he says, "Israel's recognition fulfills Morocco's aspirations and aligns with the kingdom's demands to its partners. This recognition explicitly reflects Israel's understanding of the specifics mentioned in King Mohammed VI's speech on the occasion of the 69th anniversary of Revolution of the King and the People (2022). In that speech, King Mohammed VI emphasized that the issue of Western Sahara is the lens through which Morocco views the world, serving as a clear and simple criterion to measure the sincerity of friendships and the effectiveness of partnerships."

Bouden emphasizes the numerous gains from this recognition, citing an "increased surge in bilateral relations between the two countries and potential Israeli investments in various sectors such as energy, tourism, trade, infrastructure, and more, contributing to the development of Western Sahara and creating job opportunities for the youth." Speaking to Raseef22, Bouden adds that he believes "this decision shows explicit support for Morocco's essential interests and reinforces its sovereignty over Western Sahara on a global scale, leveraging Israel's extensive network of geopolitical relations in various regions."

The Palestinian cause versus "territorial unity"?

Since the normalization of Moroccan-Israeli relations in 2020, there has been ongoing speculation about trading the Palestinian cause for the Western Sahara issue. Does Israel's recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara signify a shift away from supporting Palestine? Mohamed Bouden firmly denies such claims and asserts to Raseef22 that "Morocco's position regarding the Palestinian cause remains steadfast and unaffected by any developments. History has proven this consistency through King Mohammed VI's leadership of the Jerusalem/Al-Quds Committee and the fieldwork carried out by the Bayt Mal Al-Quds Agency in supporting the resilience of Jerusalem's people daily. Additionally, Morocco's diplomatic stances have condemned Israel's unilateral actions and violations against the sacred sites."

Bouden further elaborates that "the message sent by King Mohammed VI to the Israeli Prime Minister following Israel's recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara presents a clear Moroccan vision for the peace process in the Middle East." The royal response reaffirmed "Morocco's consistent and balanced stance on the Palestinian cause and the special status of Jerusalem for the three monotheistic religions. Moreover, the burgeoning relationship between Morocco and Israel could potentially serve the equation of peace and enhance regional security."

Will Israel, as we know it, genuinely recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, and actively rally support from European capitals without wanting anything in return?

However, Aziz Hanawi takes a different perspective, believing that Israel's recognition "will undoubtedly affect Morocco's position towards the Palestinian cause, despite the official denial." He raises an important question: "Will Israel, as we know it, genuinely recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara and actively rally support from European capitals without expecting or wanting anything in return? That seems highly unlikely. This decision will undoubtedly impact Morocco's stance and role in the Palestinian cause. The proof is that over the past two years, the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has maintained neutrality towards Israeli violations against Palestinians."

Speaking to Raseef22, Hanawi asserts that "the aftermath of the trilateral agreement and Israel's recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara will significantly limit diplomatic maneuvering and potentially influence Morocco's stance regarding the developments in Palestine." He adds, "A time will come when Morocco cannot avoid taking a necessary stand. The Israeli right-wing currently holds significant influence in Israel, and Israeli society is steadily shifting further rightward. The pivotal moment will revolve around Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and with Morocco heading the Jerusalem Committee, the margin for normalization maneuvers will likely narrow with time, and Morocco may eventually be compelled to make a significant decision. It will either have to sever ties with the terrorist Zionist entity, or fully commit to the relationship, thereby potentially paying a heavy price not just in Palestine or Western Sahara, but for the entire official Moroccan existence," as he puts it.

What does Israel stand to gain from this decision?

Since the normalization of Moroccan-Israeli relations, there have been significant developments in various fields, particularly in security and military cooperation. Now, with Israel's recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, the question arises about Israel's expectations from this decision. Hassan Balwan, in his interview with Raseef22, says "Since international relations are driven by interests, I believe the Israeli side has carefully considered the substantial gains it can derive from strengthening its comprehensive ties with a pivotal and influential Arab country like Morocco. Therefore, Israel's decision is likely to yield it political, diplomatic, economic, and cultural benefits." Balwan further explains, "While it is true the presence of Moroccan Jews plays a significant role in this relationship, the scope of gains between the two nations goes beyond mere politics, pointing towards the establishment of a long-term bilateral, strategic partnership."

For his part, Mohamed Bouden views Israel's actions as being in its best interest. He suggests that Israel aims to "broaden its relations with Morocco, explore new areas of cooperation, and demonstrate greater willingness to collaborate with Morocco in order to appear as a committed partner that is concerned with the issues of its partners. This strategic move can also bolster Israel's efforts to foster rapprochement with other Arab and Islamic nations, which is the zionist state's strategic ambition." In his statement to Raseef22, Bouden adds, "Israel's acknowledgment of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara may pave the way for Israel to initiate economic projects in the region, furthering its interest in maintaining the region's stability, just as other countries have opened consulates in the Moroccan Sahara. Hence, this decision is about achieving bilateral and multilateral objectives from an Israeli perspective."

Netanyahu's invitation to visit Morocco

Following Israel's recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, King Mohammed VI personally extended an invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make an official visit to Morocco. On this, Aziz Hanawi says, "We consider this invitation a significant failure for Morocco. If Netanyahu's visit would benefit the Palestinian cause or the Western Sahara issue, they would have been benefited by previous visits by Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. This is not the first visit of an Israeli official, although it is being presented as a historic visit. Thus, this visit will be a stain on Morocco, a significant provocation, and an affront to the Moroccan sentiment and identity. It will also be an encouragement for the new Zionist government, which is rejected by Europe and the United States due to its threat to the so-called two-state solution and is heading rightward towards a Zionism that contradicts the modern Western-European democratic model."

Saad Mertah shares similar sentiments, considering this invitation "contrary to the will of the Moroccan people and their progressive forces, firstly, and secondly, it is part of the Moroccan regime's hastened embrace of Zionism in various fields, including security, military, and intelligence, which entails compromising national sovereignty."

It is in Israel's interest to broaden its relations with Morocco, explore new areas of cooperation, and express greater willingness to work with Morocco in order to appear as a committed partner

He strongly emphasizes, in his conversation with Raseef 22, that "the regime believes it will reap support for all its policies through this visit, including its handling of the Western Sahara issue. However, in reality, it is allowing the Zionist enemy to export its aggressive policies that it practices against the Palestinian people, to our Maghreb region. This fuels the fire of strife, animosity, and tearing apart the will of the people, ultimately enabling this occupying entity to expand wars and conflicts, diverting attention from the Palestinian cause."

For his part, Mohamed Bouden states, "The invitation comes on the occasion of Israel's recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, marking a significant development in bilateral relations and adding to the international dynamics regarding the Western Sahara issue. The upcoming visit represents a rare opportunity and a ray of hope for peace. Moreover, it can play a crucial role in advancing bilateral relations." He also highlights the "strategic aspects of Morocco-Israel relations, especially regarding the Middle East peace process and regional stability." Bouden cites the success of Moroccan-American mediation in opening the Allenby Crossing (King Hussein Crossing) and King Mohammed VI's joint appeal with Pope Francis of the Vatican for the city of Jerusalem."

He further adds, "It should be said that the invitation extended by King Mohammed VI to the Israeli Prime Minister is not the first that an Israeli official receives from Arab and Islamic countries and their leaders. Israeli prime ministers have previously visited Egypt, Jordan and the Sultanate of Oman, and Netanyahu will visit Turkey on the 28th of this month at the invitation of the Turkish president. The former Prime Minister of Israel had visited the UAE and Bahrain in order to discuss opportunities to revitalize the peace process in the Middle East, and therefore there are efforts to change and Morocco is committed to carrying out its responsibilities in this regard."

As for Hassan Balwa, he believes it is necessary to consider the political contexts and diplomatic implications that came in the royal message addressed to Netanyahu on the occasion of Israel's recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. He says, "The royal message came firstly to underscore and examine the mechanisms of Moroccan diplomacy, which adopts political realism and balance without compromising the principles guiding the Kingdom's foreign policy."

He continues, "Before the anticipated visit, the royal message laid down a set of pillars that the Kingdom cannot deviate from. It proactively reminded of the core principles upheld by Morocco as a quietly influential player in the Western Sahara and Palestinian issues. The message also specified that the visit is subject to both sides agreeing on a suitable time, indicating that Morocco will not host a visit accompanied by Israeli escalation in Palestinian territories."

So, will Netanyahu's visit be a prelude to organizing the Negev Summit 2, which Morocco was supposed to host before Israel's military escalation in the West Bank resulted in its postponement by Rabat?

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