[crooks blackmailing one another] Israel links Western Sahara move to Morocco hosting Negev Forum‘

Al-Jazeera  /  July 3, 2023 

Israel says its decision on Morocco’s claim over the Western Sahara to be made at forum delayed by North African nation.

Israel has linked its pending decision on recognizing Morocco’s claim on the Western Sahara to the North African nation hosting a repeatedly postponed forum of foreign ministers involved in a United States-sponsored regional normalization drive.

“We are right now working in regards to this issue, and our plan is to have our final decision in the Negev Forum,” Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told reporters on Monday, adding that he expected the Moroccan-hosted event to take place in September or October.

For decades, Morocco has been embroiled in a dispute with the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, a breakaway movement that seeks to establish an independent state in the Western Sahara. The region was a Spanish colony until 1975 before Morocco took control of it, a move that has not been recognized internationally.

The so-called Negev Forum was created out of a summit organized in March 2022 by former Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at the Kibbutz of Sde Boker in Israel’s Negev desert.

The forum’s goal is to enhance cooperation among Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and the US. These are the countries involved in the Abraham Accords, US-brokered agreements between Israel and Arab countries to normalize relations.

Israel-Morocco ties

Morocco has had informal ties with Israel for years, but the two countries agreed to normalize their relations in December 2020. As part of the agreement, then-US President Donald Trump agreed to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara.

Under the deal, Morocco said it would establish full diplomatic relations, resume official contacts with Israel, and grant overflights and direct flights to and from Israel for all Israelis.

In 2021, the two countries signed another agreement in a step towards further strengthening their ties. As part of the new deal, they agreed to cooperate in the fields of culture, sports and youth affairs.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden’s administration said it will review the previous administration’s decision to recognize Morocco’s claim over the Western Sahara.

Diplomatic sources say Morocco could establish full relations with Israel and repurpose their current mid-level diplomatic missions as embassies in exchange for Israeli recognition of Morocco’s claim.

But Morocco, citing Israel’s actions against Palestinians, last month postponed the Negev Forum.

Asked at a briefing with foreign media about what Israel sought in return for recognition of the Western Sahara as Moroccan and whether it planned to open a consulate in the territory, Cohen linked a decision to the conference.



 Israel links Moroccan Western Sahara recognition to Negev Forum

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  July 3, 2023

Israeli move comes as it launches major military operation in occupied West Bank widely condemned by Arab states.

Israel has conditioned its decision to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara on whether Rabat convenes the Negev Forum this year. The ultimatum comes after Morocco cancelled the event in protest over Israel’s military campaign in the occupied West Bank and illegal settlement expansion.

Morocco cancelled the forum last month over what Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita called Israel’s “provocative and unilateral acts” that “undermine peace efforts in the region”.

In the announcement, he criticized an Israeli army raid on Jenin where an Apache helicopter was deployed. The attack killed at least five Palestinians and wounded 91. In response, four Israeli settlers were killed in a shooting in Eli settlement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expanded the construction of illegal settlements in the town in a move Israel’s government characterized as a response to the shooting. The move brought the total number of settlements Israel recently approved to 5,700. Since Netanyahu came to power last year, Israel has advanced or approved permits for 13,000 new housing units, the highest number on record since 2012.

Tensions in the occupied West Bank have only escalated since then. On Monday, Israel launched a large-scale military attack on Jenin. Heavy fighting has been reported between Palestinian fighters and Israeli troops. On Monday evening, the Israeli army stormed Jenin’s Al-Ansar Mosque, claiming that armed men were holed up inside it.

Israel has faced international condemnation for the attack. Arab states in particular have criticized the attack. Egypt’s ministry of foreign affairs characterized the attack as “excessive and indiscriminate [use of] force” and “a flagrant violation” of international law.

Egypt’s top diplomat, along with those from Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and the United States attended the first Negev Summit in Israel last year.

Normalization becoming impossible 

Morocco was slated to host the event this year and the countries have held a series of meetings to plan for the summit. A meeting was delayed in March amid heightened tensions in the occupied West Bank during the overlap of Passover, Easter and Ramadan. Axios reported earlier this month that Morocco asked for the meeting to be delayed in June due to the Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha. The summit was slated to be held in July.

The UAE, Morocco and Bahrain established official relations with Israel in 2020 as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords. The aim of the summit is to cement normalization by increasing coordination between the countries on issues such as security, energy, tourism, education and water security.

The move broke with decades of precedent in the Arab world which held that countries would not officially recognize Israel until a resolution that led to Palestinian statehood was reached.

Morocco has swiftly moved ahead to expand ties with Israel, which existed unofficially for decades. Earlier this month, Israel’s top diplomat in Morocco said the country was considering recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara.

Morocco annexed the territory after Spain withdrew from its former colony in 1975. It has been engaged in a simmering conflict with the Polisario Front, a national liberation movement representing the indigenous Sahrawi people. In 2020, the US recognized Morocco’s claim of sovereignty over Western Sahara in exchange for Rabat’s normalization of ties with Israel – a major diplomatic coup for Rabat.

Recently, Israel appeared to be courting Rabat by flirting with recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over the region as well. A successful summit would have been a win for Netanyahu, who has trumpeted his ability to achieve normalization with Arab states without granting concessions to the Palestinians.

But ties have been strained by Israeli actions. Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the ongoing violence in the occupied West Bank was making it nearly impossible to make progress on normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel.