Morocco’s relations with Israel are unique in the Arab world and bilateral ties were “already normal” before a diplomatic normalisation was announced, Morocco’s foreign minister said Sunday.
Morocco on Thursday announced a “resumption of relations” with Israel, shortly after US President Donald Trump tweeted that Rabat and the Jewish state had “agreed to full diplomatic relations”.
Morocco closed its liaison office in Tel Aviv in 2000 at the start of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Morocco’s announcement is widely seen as making it the fourth Arab country this year to unveil plans to normalise ties with Israel through a US-brokered deal, following the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.
But in an interview with Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper published Sunday, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said, “Israel’s relations with Morocco are special and can’t be compared to the relations that Israel has with any other Arab country.”
Read more: Israel and Arab world: four accords and secret visit
“From our perspective, we aren’t talking about normalisation because relations were already normal,” Bourita was quoted as saying by the paper.
“We’re talking about (re-formalising) the relations between the countries to the relations we had, because there have been relations the entire time. They never stopped,” he added.
Israel's PM @netanyahu on establishing diplomatic relations with #Morocco: "This will be a very warm peace. On this Hannukah, the light the peace has never shone brighter than today in the Middle East."
— Raphael Ahren (@RaphaelAhren) December 10, 2020
A palace statement last week said King Mohammed VI had agreed to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel with “minimal delay”.
That followed Trump’s recognition of Morocco’s contested sovereignty in Western Sahara, infuriating the Algerian-backed Polisario Front, which controls about one-fifth of the vast, arid region.
Bourita, in the interview, highlighted Morocco’s enduring connection to Israel through its domestic Jewish community and the estimated 700,000 Israeli Jews of Moroccan descent. “Morocco has an important history with the Jewish community, a history that is special in the Arab world,” he told the paper.
US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, who met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Sunday, echoed Bourita’s view that normalisation with Morocco was “special”, given the number of Jews of Moroccan heritage.
Read more: Sudan normalizes ties with Israel as Palestinians condemn new deal
“Morocco will benefit from support from the Moroccan Jewish community,” O’Brien said, also highlighting the number of “Israelis who trace their ancestry through Morocco”.
Netanyahu said none of the normalisation deals “would have been possible” without the Trump administration.
The Palestinians have condemned the normalisation announcements, which broke with decades of Arab League consensus against recognition of Israel until it agrees to a peace that includes the creation of a Palestinian state.
Opposition against the deals has emerged as a unifying force between the two main Palestinian entities on the ground, Fatah and Hamas.
.@realDonaldTrump’s bold record of peace making continues.
Today, Israel & Morocco agreed to full diplomatic relations, building on:
✅ Israel-UAE peace deal
✅ Israel-Bahrain peace deal
✅ Serbia-Kosovo economic normalization
✅ Israel & Sudan normalized ties
— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) December 10, 2020
Fatah controls the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority and its rival Hamas, an Islamist movement, controls the Palestinian enclave of Gaza.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas headed to Qatar on Sunday for a two-day visit, including a meeting with Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh is currently based in Qatar, but there was no immediate confirmation that he and Abbas would meet.
Anger in Gaza
King Mohammed VI has said Morocco will remain an advocate for the Palestinians, but on the streets of Gaza on Sunday Palestinians criticised the monarch.
“The Moroccan people are not satisfied with what the Moroccan leader did with the Israelis,” Gaza resident Moamen al-Harthani told AFP. “Normalisation leads to the destruction of the Palestinian cause,” he said.
Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahrar called on Morocco’s parliament to pass legislation “to criminalise the normalisation”.
Read more: Normalization with Israel ‘would get me killed by my own people’: Saudi Prince MBS
Israel’s former United Nations ambassador Danny Danon said the Palestinians needed to “understand that today there is a new paradigm”.
The Arab model of no ties with Israel, until the Palestinian conflict is resolved, has been cast aside, he argued.
“The new paradigm is first we are forging ties with the Muslim world, with the Arab countries, and together with them we can approach the Palestinians,” Danon said, suggesting that future peace talks could include delegates from other Arab states.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk