Israel and Morocco agreed on Thursday to normalize relations in a deal brokered with the help of the United States, making Morocco the fourth Arab country to set aside hostilities with Israel in the past four months.
As part of the agreement, US President Donald Trump agreed to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara, where there has been a decades-old territorial dispute with Morocco pitted against the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, a breakaway movement that seeks to establish an independent state in the territory.
Another HISTORIC breakthrough today! Our two GREAT friends Israel and the Kingdom of Morocco have agreed to full diplomatic relations – a massive breakthrough for peace in the Middle East!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2020
Trump sealed the agreement in a phone call on Thursday with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI. Morocco is the fourth country since August to strike a deal aimed at normalizing relations with Israel. The others were the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan.
Palestinians have been critical of the normalization deals, saying Arab countries have set back the cause of peace by abandoning a long-standing demand that Israel gives up land for a Palestinian state before it can receive recognition.
Palestinian officials reacted angrily to the announcement. Bassam as-Salhi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, condemned the deal.
“Any Arab retreat from the  Arab Peace Initiative, which stipulates that normalization comes only after Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands, is unacceptable and increases Israel’s belligerence and its denial of the Palestinian people’s rights,” Salhi said.
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said: “This is a sin and it doesn’t serve the Palestinian people. The Israeli occupation uses every new normalization to increase its aggression against the Palestinian people and increase its settlement expansion.”
Moroccan King Mohammmed told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a phone call on Thursday that Rabat stands by a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a royal court statement said.
The king added negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are the only way to reach a final, lasting, and comprehensive solution to the conflict.
Economic cooperation with Israel
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the normalization deal with Morocco as “another great light of peace”, saying there would be direct flights between the countries and the opening of diplomatic missions.
Under the agreement, Morocco will establish full diplomatic relations and resume official contacts with Israel, grant overflights, and also direct flights to and from Israel for all Israelis.
“They are going reopen their liaison offices in Rabat and Tel Aviv immediately with the intention to open embassies. And they are going to promote economic cooperation between Israeli and Moroccan companies,” White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner told reporters.
Kushner said it was an “inevitability” that Saudi Arabia will also recognize Israel. The White House has tried to get Saudi Arabia to sign on to a normalization deal with Israel, believing if they agreed other Arab nations would follow. But Saudi Arabia has signaled it is not ready.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said last week Riyadh would only consider such a move if a peace deal “delivers a Palestinian state with dignity and with a workable sovereignty that Palestinians can accept”.
The independent Sahrawi state is not a realistic option
The US will also recognize Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara, the former Spanish North African territory that has been a long-running dispute that has confounded international negotiators for decades, a White House statement said.
“The United States believes that an independent Sahrawi state is not a realistic option for resolving the conflict and that genuine autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty is the only feasible solution,” it said.
“We urge the parties to engage in discussions without delay, using Morocco’s autonomy plan as the only framework to negotiate a mutually acceptable solution.” Kushner added recognizing Moroccan sovereignty in Western Sahara, “is something that has been talked about for a long time but that is something that seems inevitable at some point”.
“It is something that we think advances the region and helps bring more clarity to where things are going,” he said. In an official statement, the Polisario Front slammed the US decision.
Morocco’s king lauded the “historic” US recognition of sovereignty over Western Sahara, and Morocco’s Royal Court said the US would open a consulate in Western Sahara as part of its deal.
“This is the United States being now the only Western nation to recognise Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara,”. “There’s going to be a tough choice for President-elect [Joe] Biden when he comes in: is he going to affirm what Donald Trump has done, or is he going to have made the decision to reverse it?”