The Electronic Intifada / December 15, 2020
The United States has brokered four normalization agreements between Israel and Arab states in recent months and marketed them as peace treaties.
The Trump administration used a mix of intimidation and incentives to achieve some of these deals.
Last week, Morocco became the latest Arab state to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel, normalizing years of clandestine relations between the two countries.
“Our two great friends Israel and the kingdom of Morocco have agreed to full diplomatic relations,” President Donald Trump announced on Twitter on 10 December.
Trump also announced that he “signed a proclamation recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara.”
Morocco’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with Israel appears to have been made in exchange for the Trump administration’s agreement to recognize Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara.
While a White House official statement does not explicitly tie the normalization agreement to the recognition of Morocco’s claim, they were announced together.
Moroccans reject decision
Palestinian civil society condemned the Moroccan government’s “betrayal” of Palestinians and saluted “Moroccans who unanimously reject the Moroccan regime’s normalization of relations with Israel.”
According to a recent poll conducted by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, 88 percent of Moroccans reject their country’s recognition of Israel.
Moroccan authorities forcibly prevented a protest against the government’s decision in the capital Rabat on Monday.
“Moroccans have always considered Israel to be both their enemy as well as the enemy of all the peoples of the region,” the BDS National Committee (BNC), the civil society coalition that leads the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, stated.
The agreement is neither “surprising nor unusual, given the long history of secret and open relations” between the two countries, the BNC added.
Indeed, the deal Trump calls “historic” merely formalizes decades of secret military and intelligence cooperation between Israel and Morocco.
Israel’s foreign intelligence agency Mossad and the Jewish Agency smuggled Moroccan Jews out of their country, some by force, in the early days following Israel’s establishment.
In 1965, Morocco allowed Mossad to bug the rooms of Arab officials meeting in Casablanca, giving Israel a leg-up in the 1967 war, according to a New York Times interview with a former Israeli military official.
Also in 1965 Mossad colluded in the kidnapping and killing of left-wing Moroccan opposition leader Mehdi Ben Barka.
Illustrating these long ties, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak tweeted a photo of himself with Morocco’s King Muhammad when he was much younger.
Barak added that he first met him 42 years ago, when he was a 15-year-old boy, at the palace of his father, the late King Hasan II.
The BNC affirmed that the United States as an “imperialist power that wages continuous wars against the people of the world and their aspirations for freedom, independence and development, is unfit to be a legal and moral reference for resolving conflicts.”
This was in reference to Trump’s recognition of Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara.
A Spanish colony until 1975, Western Sahara borders Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania, and has been dubbed “Africa’s last colony.”
With a population of more than half a million, Western Sahara is recognized by the United Nations as a Non Self-Governing Territory that has not yet achieved self-determination.
With French and American backing, Morocco has occupied the vast majority of the territory since the 1970s, against the resistance of the Polisario Front, established in 1973 to liberate Western Sahara from Spanish and then Moroccan rule.
Polisario, as well as the Sahrawi government which administers some 20 percent of the territory, condemned Trump’s decision to hand Morocco “something which does not belong” to it, the group told French media.
Palestinian and Sahrawi liberation movements have previously found solidarity with each other.
George Habash, the late leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, visited Sahrawi refugee camps in 1979.
In a speech there, Habash praised the Sahrawis’ defeat of Spanish colonizers and their struggle against Moroccan rule.
“We felt as if you were fighting alongside us in the trenches against the enemies of the Palestinian revolution,” he added.
In words that resonate today, Habash asserted that “in the Palestinian revolution, we don’t just fight against Israel and Zionists, we fight against the Arab regressive forces who are aligned with the Zionist movement.”
Meanwhile, the US is close to completing the sale of at least four advanced drones to Morocco.
The State Department reportedly approved the sale but it would still need to pass through Congress. It is unclear if the drones would come attached with weapons.
It is also unclear whether the sale is involved with the normalization agreement.
The Trump administration approved in November the sale of 50 F-35 fighter jets to the UAE as part of a $23 billion weapons deal. Israel’s initial refusal to give its blessing to the weapons sale had been a hiccup, but the deal went through following the UAE-Israeli normalization agreement.
Blackmail and rewards
After the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, Morocco is the fourth Arab nation to normalize relations with Israel under the Trump administration – deals that have involved both rewards and threats.
Sudan’s transitional government agreed in October to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel as part of a larger deal to bring it firmly into the American fold.
A Sudanese government spokesperson recently revealed that the country came under “heavy pressure” from the United States to normalize relations in exchange for Sudan’s removal from the US list of alleged state sponsors of terrorism.
“It was said clearly [that] this is linked,” Sudan’s information minister Faisal Mohamed Salih told Iran’s Press TV.
“‘If you want Sudan to be delisted from the [US list of state sponsors of terrorism], then you have to normalize the relationship with Israel.’ It was a very difficult situation,” he said.
Salih told Press TV correspondent Ahmed Kaballo that Sudan’s transitional government “insisted” on keeping the two issues separate when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Khartoum to hold talks.
Sudan’s removal from the list has been perceived as a primary motivation for moving ahead with normalization.
Younger people “want anything that would get the economy up and going,” Kaballo told journalist Anya Parampil of The Grayzone.
“They don’t like the Israeli regime, they don’t like the crimes against Palestinians,” Kaballo added. “But they think if normalized relations with Israel will bring foreign investment, will improve the economic situation, then that’s a price they’re willing to pay.”
Formal treaties are expected once Sudan forms a permanent government.
Pakistan in the headlines
Headlines last month claimed that Saudi Arabia was pressuring Pakistan to establish diplomatic ties with Israel.
Rumors emerged after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was asked about pressure on Islamabad to normalize ties with Israel in an interview with local broadcaster GNN.
“How much pressure is on you to recognize Israel?” the interviewer asked Khan.
“The pressure is because Israel has a big influence on America,” Khan said, adding that this has increased with the Trump administration.
“Now, it was never in our thinking that we can recognize Israel.”
Khan added that since Pakistan’s founding, its policy has been that until Palestinians “get their rights and a just settlement,” there can never be recognition.
Asked if Muslim states – presumably a reference to Saudi Arabia – were pressuring Pakistan to recognize Israel, Khan asked the interviewer to move on with his questions.
The Pakistani government denied reports that the US was pressuring it to recognize Israel as “fabrications” and reaffirmed its “unequivocal” position that it will not recognize Israel so long as Palestinians are not granted their full rights.
“The Pakistani people would never succumb to this pressure,” Pakistani academic Junaid S. Ahmad recently wrote.
“They have always stood in solidarity with the Palestinians and the Kashmiris, and no amount of coercion now is going to diminish their resolve,” he added.
“There is hardly a more pro-Palestinian population than the Pakistanis.”
Ali Abunimah contributed reporting.
Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada