Kushner leads US-Israeli delegation to Morocco to mark normalisation deal

Kushner said normalisation of ties between Morocco and Israel will bring new opportunities for the two countries (Reuters)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  December 22, 2020

Officials land in Morocco and are expected to meet King Mohammed VI and restore relations that existed in the 1990s.

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner led a delegation from Israel to Morocco on Tuesday, in the first direct flight between the two countries since they agreed to normalise relations earlier this month.

Led by US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, the delegation is accompanied by Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and other officials. Several bilateral and trilateral agreements are expected to be signed.

During the visit, Kushner and Ben-Shabbat are expected to meet with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and senior politicians, where they will agree to restore low-level relations that previously existed in the 1990s.

“The goal is to move the relationship from a low level to full diplomatic relations,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Lior Haiat said, without giving a full timeline.

On Monday, during a tree-planting ceremony in Jerusalem, Kushner said the normalisation of ties “will bring about a whole new set of opportunities for Northern Africa and the entire Middle East”.

Tuesday’s visit marks the latest in a series of controversial normalisation agreements brokered by Washington. Kushner has been an advocate for these deals and oversaw the diplomatic efforts to push the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco to formalise ties with Israel, in exchange for various economic incentives.

As a part of Rabat’s deal, the US has agreed to recognise Moroccan sovereignty over the entirety of Western Sahara, a disputed territory that was annexed in 1975 following an end to Spanish colonial rule.

Morocco’s claim is not recognised by the United Nations, who have for decades called for a referendum allowing the indigenous Sahrawi people to choose how they want to be governed.

Many neighbouring African nations have also been at loggerheads with Morocco’s claim of sovereignty, with Algeria saying the decision would undermine efforts to end the decades-long conflict over the territory.

‘Astounding retreat from diplomacy’

For years, the Palestinians have said that normalisation with Israel would weaken a long-standing pan-Arab position that only an Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and acceptance of Palestinian statehood would allow for normal relations with the Arab countries.

Both the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, have condemned the deal, just as they did with the earlier normalisation accords with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan.

“Any Arab retreat from the (2002) Arab peace initiative, which stipulates that normalization comes only after Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands, is unacceptable and increases Israel’s belligerence and its denial of the Palestinian people’s rights,” Bassam al-Salhe, a member of the PLO’s executive committee, told Reuters earlier this month.

Still, even before the normalisation agreement, Israel and Morocco had covert relations with Rabat, openly receiving Israeli tourists.

In the 1990s, the two countries established low-level relations, with Morocco having a representative office in Tel Aviv. This was closed, however, after the Second Palestinian Intifada in 2000. 

While the US political scene has been increasing its partisan divide over the years, the normalisation agreements, brokered by the Republican Trump administration, have been met positively by both political parties, including by President-elect Joe Biden.

Still, former US Secretary of State James Baker, who served as UN envoy to Western Sahara, said in an opinion piece in the Washington Post that the decision to recognise Moroccan sovereignty was “an astounding retreat from the principles of international law and diplomacy”.