Morocco Signals to Israel It Does Not Want Public Ceremony to Mark Normalization

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
Haaretz's diplomatic correspondent
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Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and U.S. White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner arrive in Rabat, Morocco December 22, 2020. U.S. Embassy in Morocco/Handout via REUTERS
Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and U.S. White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner arrive in Rabat, Morocco December 22, 2020. Credit: U.S. Embassy in Morocco/Handout via Reuters
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
Haaretz's diplomatic correspondent

Morocco has signaled to Israel in recent days that it does not intend to hold a public signing ceremony for their agreement to normalize relations, as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain did with Israel a few months ago. 

Nevertheless, on visit to Morocco on Tuesday by a joint Israeli-American delegation headed by Trump administration senior adviser Jared Kushner and Meir Ben-Shabbat, who heads Israel's National Security Council, a number of low-level cooperation agreements were signed between the Moroccan hosts and Israel.

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The visiting delegation met with Moroccan King Mohammed VI, whom Ben-Shabbat invited on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit Israel. At the meeting with the monarch, which was conducted in Moroccan Arabic, the king expressed his intention to build long-term full ties with Israel.

Rabat does not view its agreement to normalize ties with Israel, brokered by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this month, as part of the Abraham Accords. Explaining its refusal to sign a normalization agreement with Israel, Morocco said it already had overt diplomatic relations with Israel in the past.

The visiting delegation signed agreements on visa exemptions for diplomatic and some other passport holders and for cooperation on water resources, finance and investment and civil aviation, providing for direct flights between the two countries.

The Israeli flag carrier El Al's airliner carrying an Israeli delegation accompanied by U.S. White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, arrives in Rabat, Morocco December 22, 2020Credit: U.S. Embassy in Morocco/Handout via Reuters

Noting the connection that Moroccan Jews living in Israel feel for Morocco, Ben-Shabbat spoke about his own Moroccan roots. "Like me, many second and third generations of immigrants from Morocco living in Israel remain faithful to the heritage of our ancestors and preserve it."

At an airport ceremony in Israel held before the delegation's departure for Rabat, Ben Shabbat said, “We are leaving on a direct and historic Israeli flight with the intention of turning the agreement into practical achievements. History is being written before our eyes.” 

An agreement was also signed on the visit through which the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation will offer $3 billion in support of private investments in Morocco and in sub-Saharan Africa in partnership with Moroccan businesses, Reuters reported.

According to the Israeli delegation's original schedule, it was due to return to Israel on Wednesday, but the flight was moved up to Tuesday night because of a decision by the coronavirus cabinet to require anyone entering Israel as of Wednesday night to remain in isolation in a designated coronavirus hotel or hostel.

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The renewed relations with Morocco were portrayed in Israel and in the United States as the fourth that the Trump administration helped broker, following similar agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi explicitly said that the agreement with Morocco is part of the Abraham Accords, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a "historic peace agreement."

"Renewing relations between us is an important and required part of the Abraham Accords, which reflects the deep mutual friendship between these nations. I call on more countries to join the accords," Ashkenazi said.  

Israel and Morocco have had covert relations for decades, and the Moroccan government has openly received tourists from Israel.

Following the Oslo Accords of the 1990s, Israel’s ties with Morocco were brought into the open. Then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres attended the opening of an Israeli representative office. Israel operated the liaison office in Morocco from 1994 to 2000, and Morocco had a similar office in Israel. But following the eruption of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000, ties with Morocco receded from public view again.

In the first stage of the agreements between the two states, Israel and Morocco are planning on reopening their liaison offices that were shut 20 years ago. Only after this will official embassies be opened.

“There are a lot more agreements in the pipeline,” said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat at a media briefing. "Since only two weeks have passed since the declaration of the resumption of diplomatic relations, there has not yet been enough to complete the process."

Haiat said he expects that after the coronavirus crisis ends, direct flights between the two countries will greatly increase the number of Israeli tourists in Morocco, and will also allow Moroccan tourists to visit Israel – something that was almost completely absent in recent years.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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