Israeli Officials Arrive in Morocco in Normalization Push

Israeli officials and a U.S. delegation led by President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner arrived in Morocco to hammer out details of the North African kingdom’s normalization deal.

Tuesday’s trip comes after Trump announced Dec. 10 that Morocco and Israel had agreed to establish full diplomatic ties, mirroring recent moves by Arab states Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The U.S. also reversed a long-standing policy and recognized Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara, a swath of Atlantic-front territory that’s been disputed for more than four decades.

Kushner, who arrived with the others on what was billed the first commercial flight to Morocco from Tel Aviv, has said the U.S. is looking to conclude several unspecified agreements while in the Moroccan capital, Rabat. Israeli’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that the country expects to sign a series of deals involving investments, aviation, visas and water.

The addition of Morocco, which had low-key ties with Israel between 1994 and 2002, to the other Arab states normalizing relations is helping bolster Trump’s claims to have reshaped the Middle East, easing regional tensions with Israel and focusing more attention on Iran. President-elect Joe Biden has mainly praised the deals while saying Trump’s Mideast policies have also undermined U.S. national security.

Israel is home to many Jews of Moroccan descent. The visit comes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government appears on the brink of collapse amid a budget delay, raising the possibility of a fourth election in two years.

The U.S.’s new stance on Western Sahara has shone a light on a simmering dispute that’s dogged Morocco’s international standing for decades. Rich in minerals, Western Sahara is larger than the U.K., divided by a vast sand-berm and has been bitterly contested since its 1975 annexation by Morocco after the withdrawal of ex-colonial power Spain.

Sporadic fighting between Morocco and the rebel group known as the Polisario Front claimed about 9,000 lives over 16 years before a United Nations-brokered 1991 cease-fire that largely held until last month, when Moroccan forces dispersed a protest at a key border crossing.

Polisario, which receives diplomatic support from neighboring Algeria, has since claimed sporadic attacks on Moroccan outposts. The UN has said it remains committed to a long-delayed referendum on the territory’s status.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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