After ‘Mixed Signals’ From Morocco Over Normalization, Israeli Foreign Ministry Chief Heads to Rabat for Talks
Israel’s Foreign Minister Director-General Alon Ushpiz has embarked on a visit to Morocco to hold political dialogue talks and discuss ways to advance the bilateral relations between the two countries.
The visit was scheduled after Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid held a conversation with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Burita. During the visit, Ushpiz is expected to meet with his Moroccan counterpart, Fouad Yazourh, and with top Foreign Ministry officials in the country.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said that the trip comes ahead of the launch of direct flights between Israel and Morocco, which are expected to begin in a few weeks. The ministry hopes that the flights operated by Israeli and Moroccan airlines will help promote the movement of tourists and businessmen between the countries.
Late last year, Israel and Morocco resumed their diplomatic ties as part of a normalization agreement brokered by the US with other Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan.
Sarah Feuer, a fellow at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies and a non-resident fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, called Upshiz’s visit a “significant step” in the process of renewing the Israel-Morocco relationship.
“Morocco had recently been sending mixed signals regarding the normalization with Israel,” Feuer told The Algemeiner. “On the one hand, issuing rather muted condemnation of Israel when it came to the operation in Gaza in May, and welcoming Prime Minister Bennett’s new government late last month; while on the other hand sending a letter to Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh praising the group’s ‘victory’ over Israel, and then welcoming Haniyeh to Morocco on an official visit in June”
“The mixed signals have more to do with domestic Moroccan politics (the country will hold legislative elections this fall and the leading Islamist party was likely looking to burnish its credentials) and likely also reflect Morocco’s desire to present itself to Washington as a useful mediator between Israel and the Palestinians,” Feuer said.
“But Usphiz’s visit suggests that overall the push to renew ties is heading in a positive direction,” she added.
In protest of the latest round of hostilities between Israel and the Hamas militant group, pro-Palestinian groups in Morocco last month took to social media platforms to call for the expulsion of Israeli Ambassador to Morocco David Govrin. Earlier this year, Govrin launched the Israeli representation in the capital of Rabat after the renewal of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
“Morocco has moved more cautiously than Israel would have liked,” Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, a scholar at Tel Aviv University and a Senior Research Fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center, told The Algemeiner.
However, Maddy-Weitzman said, there was now a “renewed sense of movement,” as Rabat has recognized that the Biden administration does not intend to reverse President Donald Trump’s recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara territory — the prize for its restoration of ties with Israel.
“The King is clearly signaling to Moroccan society that a finely calibrated, above-board relationship with Israel is in the country’s interest, and that he would not be deterred by criticism from Islamist and Arab nationalist circles,” Maddy-Weitzman said, referring to the Moroccan monarch Mohammed VI.
He added that practical steps to deepen relations with Israel were seen as a way to strengthen Rabat’s position with the new US administration.
“Morocco and Israel have had quiet cooperative relations for years, including trade and tourism. But Morocco is increasingly concerned with ISIS and al Qaeda making inroads into the ‘second tier’ of Africa — Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Nigeria — with increasingly lethal chaos,” argued Shoshana Bryen, Senior Director at the Jewish Policy Center.
“Part of the antidote to chaos is a modern state that connects its people to countries and companies that can create a broad and diversified economy,” she told The Algemeiner. “Morocco knows that formalizing and elevating relations with Israel can provide those benefits — just as the Gulf States did.”