Moroccan Political Parties, Islamist Groups Denounce Plan to Normalize Ties With Israel

Opponents to the U.S.-brokered deal, including the ruling political party, characterize the move as hasty and say that sovereignty over the Western Sahara does not require normalization of ties with Israel

Jack Khoury
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Moroccans burn an Israeli flag during a protest against normalizing relations with Israel, in Rabat, Morocco, September 18, 2020.
Moroccans burn an Israeli flag during a protest against normalizing relations with Israel, in Rabat, Morocco, September 18, 2020.Credit: Mosa'ab Elshamy / AP
Jack Khoury

Morocco’s decision to establish diplomatic ties with Israel in exchange for U.S. recognition of Western Sahara sovereignty has sparked anger and set off a wave of criticism among the North African nation's political parties and organizations, including its ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD).

Prime Minister Saadeddine El Othmani, who is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, faced numerous questions regarding the U.S.-brokered deal, which was announced on Thursday, over the weekend at a conference in Rabat, Morocco's capital.

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Just four months ago, Othmani said that Morocco opposed normalization with Israel and U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan, and is now reiterating that the government still supports the Palestinian struggle for recognition and sovereignty along the 1967 borders.

But Othmani’s response did not satisfy his opponents, who have condemned the decision, characterizing it as hasty and calling on the government to backtrack on the grounds that Moroccan sovereignty in the Western Sahara need not be tied to normalizing ties with Israel. Opponents of normalization with Israel also argue that such a move goes directly against Morocco's historical support of the Palestinians and their right to sovereignty.

Similar messages were conveyed by labor unions and student groups in the country. Protest rallies were held in a few cities, but they were small in scale and neither the government nor the royal palace have mentioned them.

Unlike its government coalition partners who backed the deal, it took the co-ruling moderate Islamist PJD party two days to react after disagreements emerged between the party's senior leadership, according to a source close to the matter. The PJD endorsed King Mohammed VI's actions in support of the Palestinian cause while reiterating the party's "firm position against the Zionist occupation."

The PJD also said in a statement that "The United States made an important proclamation that stresses Morocco's sovereignty over its southern provinces and opens new horizons for strengthening Morocco's position in international circles. It also further isolates the adversaries of our territorial integrity."

Opposition groups identified with hardline Islamists, such as the religious branch of the PJD party, the Unity and Reform Movement (MUR) and a Moroccan Palestinian-rights organization, were less nuanced, calling the decision treason and saying that it went contrary to the will of the people.

In a statement on Saturday, MUR said the move was "deplorable" and denounced "all attempts at normalization and the Zionist infiltration." On Friday, Morocco's outlawed Adl wal Ihsane, one of the largest opposition groups in the country, said normalization deals a "stab from the back to the Palestinian cause."

After the announcement of the agreement, King Mohammed VI, who has the last say over major diplomatic decisions, spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and told him that his country still adhered to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The steps agreed on with [U.S.] President Trump and those to be taken vis-a-vis Israel will not in any way affect Morocco’s commitment to the national Palestinian issue and its determination to continue to achieve comprehensive peace and justice in the Middle East,” the king added.

A Palestinian official told Reuters in response to the king’s statement that the Israeli-Morocco agreement was unacceptable and that it encouraged Israeli denial of Palestinian rights. Hamas condemned the agreement and called it a “political sin.” Islamic Jihad called the agreement a “betrayal of Palestine and Al-Quds,” referring to Jerusalem.

A core element of the deal brokered by President Donald Trump was U.S. recognition of Morocco's claim to sovereignty over the Western Sahara. A decades-old territorial dispute has pitted Morocco against the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, which seeks to establish an independent state.

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