Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Survey on the issue of Western Sahara Part 2/3: Normalization of Moroccan-Israeli relations. The counterpart to American recognition

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Thursday, December 17th 2020 à 14:24 | Read 352 times

The normalization of relations between Israel and Morocco does not please everyone (photos: F. Dubessy)
The normalization of relations between Israel and Morocco does not please everyone (photos: F. Dubessy)
MOROCCO / ISRAEL. Moroccan flags fly in Israel, portraits of King Mohammed VI are brandished and a slogan dominates: "Sahra maghribiya" (the Sahara is Moroccan). These manifestations of joy are provoked by the announcement of the normalization of diplomatic and economic relations between the Cherifian Kingdom and Israel. A counterpart to the U.S. recognition of Morocco's sovereignty over Western Sahara. After Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, Morocco thus becomes the sixth Arab country to (re)establish ties with Israel.
"In absolute terms, the fact that the Arab states recognize Israel seems normal to me. It is a state that exists, and with which we must cooperate. But the way this Israeli-Moroccan rapprochement is taking place is shocking, because it is the fruit of a deal organized by Donald Trump's son-in-law. It is therefore a circumvention of international law in force and of the resolutions signed by Morocco," comments Khadija Mohsen-Finan, political scientist, professor at the University of Paris 1 and researcher at the Sirice laboratory (identities, international relations and civilizations of Europe).
For Jawad Kerdoudi, president of IMRI (Moroccan Institute of International Relations), "this rapprochement seems to me a good thing. For Morocco, it will allow to receive from Israel an economic and technological cooperation at a high level".


A strong Moroccan diaspora in Israel

Officially, diplomatic relations had not existed between Morocco and Israel since 2000. Although no Moroccan embassy has been established in Israel, a liaison office had been operating since 1994, although it was not named after the embassy. Its closure, at the end of 2000, was recorded during the second intifada in the Palestinian territories. But exchanges continued as Rachid El Houdaigui, professor at the Abdelmalek Essaadi University (Tangier) and member of the Policy Center for the New South (Rabat) explains: "to understand Morocco's position on the rapprochement with Israel, we must keep in mind three points: Morocco has never hidden its formal (liaison office 1994-2000) or informal (visit, sectoral cooperation) ties. Then the thousands of Israelis of Moroccan origin who still keep the nationality of their country of origin is the lever of these relations. Finally, Morocco defends the two-state solution, which makes it a recognition of the two states.  This is why I consider this resumption of relations as a sovereign and responsible act".  

In any case, as a French diplomat requesting anonymity remarked, "Morocco has always observed a cautious, and often open attitude with Israel, given the influence of Moroccan Jews". The Guide for Moroccans Residing Abroad, published by the Moroccan government in March 2016, estimated 800,000 of its subjects living in Israel. This is the second largest diaspora in the world after France (1.3 million) and Spain (758,000). Conversely, according to a statement by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics in October 2019, 2,000 Jews would reside in Morocco.

Israelis of Moroccan origin will develop tourism

Politics and economics go hand in hand in international relations, so both countries will win on both fronts.
"Between 2014 and 2017, trade between Morocco and Israel would have exceeded $149 million, making the kingdom the fourth largest African partner of Israel for imports and the ninth largest for exports," according to Mohammad Daadaoui, professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma City, quoted by our colleague L'Orient-Le Jour.
The avenues for growth, favored by the agreement, are in the fields of energy (gas and renewable energy), agriculture, irrigation, food and trade. Without forgetting tourism. Israel awaits the visit of many Moroccans to the holy places of Islam. In Morocco, Jawad Kerdoudi predicts an increase in the "annual flow of tourists, estimated at 150,000, many of whom are Israelis of Moroccan origin".
To promote tourism, business and materialize this new cordial agreement, direct air lines will open between the two countries. Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to Donald Trump, who initiated the Israeli-American peace plan, will symbolically, Tuesday, December 22, 2020, the first flight of the company El Al between Tel Aviv and Rabat. He is preparing to sign bilateral agreements with the Moroccan government. The Moroccan press mentions, in particular, a contract for the sale of $ 1 billion (€ 800,000) of U.S. weapons in Morocco. At the end of January 2020, Israel had concluded a contract with Rabat for the supply of $48 million (€39 million) of arms, including three Heron reconnaissance aircraft.


Common struggle between Sahrawis and Palestinians

According to Khadija Mohsen-Finan, this rapprochement represents an enormous advantage for Morocco. "This country will become a regional power. But we are facing another way of writing international relations. The Israeli newspaper Hareetz, spoke of "exchange of occupations" (Peace for peace? Israel-Morocco deal is occupation in exchange for occupation, December 11, 2020), it is a frank language, and we could be informed about Morocco by the Israeli press, which is not a bad thing."

The two countries said they would re-establish ties as soon as possible. The Israeli Minister of Intelligence (former Minister of Economy), Elie Cohen, was also pleased: "The establishment of official relations between Morocco and Israel is an additional and important step in the relations between Israel and the Arab world. Other countries of the Muslim world and Africa will follow this movement. Morocco is one of the most important and influential countries in Africa. Strengthening ties with this kingdom will benefit both our countries in security, economy and many other areas".

This rapprochement between Morocco and Israel, with the United States, or rather the Trump administration, as a matchmaker, should have other, more geopolitical repercussions.

Rabat, torn between two causes, that of its sovereignty over Western Sahara and that of support for the Palestinians, makes a clear choice on its preference. Without reneging on its commitment to Palestine, said a statement of the Royal Cabinet: "His Majesty the King stressed that these measures in no way affect Morocco's permanent and sustained commitment to the just Palestinian cause and its determination to continue to contribute effectively and constructively to a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. Then, His Majesty the King and the U.S. President referred to the efforts made to resolve the crisis at the level of the Gulf Cooperation Council".

Finally, Sahrawis and Palestinians found a common enemy. The two peoples could well help each other, given the similarities between their 4,000-kilometer-long struggle. Starting with the rejection of "post-colonial colonization". The Palestinians had their Balfour Declaration (1917) with the British and the Saharawis the Madrid Agreements (1975) between Morocco, Spain and Mauritania. Two texts deciding their fate on which they were never consulted.

Until now, Palestinian leaders were close to the Moroccan government, or at least hesitated to criticize those who supported them. They may well change their approach.

Read other articles from our survey on the Western Sahara issue
Part 1: The political equation. Western Sahara, a conflict sandbagged in its contradictions
Part 3: Economic data. A desert full of resources



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