“I was born in Morocco, in Boujad, and I feel like my dream has come true,” Israeli Knesset member Amir Peretz said in an video December 13. A few days earlier, on December 10, US President Donald Trump announced that Morocco and Israel had agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations for the first time since the North African country severed relations in 2000 in the aftermath of the second Intifada. In return, the United States officially recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara.
Moroccans were not surprised to see their country become the fourth Arab nation to normalize relations with Israel. In fact, Rabat, the Moroccan intelligence service, has had an informal relationship with Israel through its intelligence agency, the Mossad, for nearly sixty years. Their history of intelligence sharing not only shaped the creation of Israel in 1948, but also enabled the current Alawite dynasty to preserve the monarchy because the Mossad informed the late King Hassan II of plans to overthrow him.
The Moroccan reaction to normalization with Israel was not one-sided. There is a large Moroccan Jewish community in Israel, with one million Jews of Moroccan origin, while around three thousand Jews live in Morocco. In addition, seventy thousand Israelis visit Morocco each year. The Jewish community in both countries has always been one of the main pillars of their relationship. Despite the problems surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Morocco has remained – through its multiple synagogues, Jewish schools and museums – a center of Jewish life in North Africa and the Arab world with the largest Jewish community – despite the exodus of Moroccan Jews in the mid-twentieth century after the establishment of Israel.
Over the past five years, King Mohammed VI has launched several projects to promote the diversity of Moroccan culture, including its Jewish community. In recent years, a reference to how Morocco was influenced by Jewish culture has been added to Morocco’s constitution.
Upon hearing the news, the Moroccan Jewish community hailed and celebrated the normalization. They shared on social media famous quotes from the late King Hassan II, a key figure who secretly held peace talks in the 1970s and negotiated the peace accords between Arab states and Israel. Among these was a popular quote: âWhen a Jew emigrates, Morocco loses a citizen, but he gains an ambassador. The legacy of Sultan Mohamed V was also revived, as he is known to have refused to hand over Moroccan Jews to the collaborationist Vichy France, who wanted to enforce their laws on Morocco (then under French protectorate) in the early 1940s. It is interesting to note that when asked about his point of view on normalization, the Moroccan Amazigh community, which places massive emphasis on cultural and social components, sees normalization as a triumph against Arabism.
On December 10, Moroccans turned their attention to national television, as the establishment of an American consulate in Dakhla, a major city in Western Sahara, was officially announced. It is impossible to fully understand the reaction of the average Moroccan citizen to normalization with Israel without referring to the Trump administration’s decision, as many view cooperation with Israel as a pragmatic choice, and would have staunchly opposed it if the Western Sahara was out of the equation.
Recent events have also played in favor of this normalization, such as the current cold war between Algeria and Morocco in the conflict of El Guergarat. Algiers supports the Polisario Front – a Sahrawi rebel liberation movement with the aim of ousting Morocco to create a democratic republic in Western Sahara – which declared war on Morocco on November 14. Due to recent events, some Israelis – Moroccan Israelis included –organized a demonstration of support in Rabat, chanting in Moroccan Arabic: “The Sahara is Moroccan” and “We have our king, it is King Mohammed VI”.
Therefore, it is assumed that Israel still has issues with Algeria, which does not recognize the Jewish state and has a long history of fighting against it during the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War. On Twitter, some Moroccans used the hashtag ” # Ø§ÙÙ ØºØ±Ø¨_Ø£ÙÙØ§“(Morocco first) and” #Ø§ÙØ¨ÙÙÙØ³Ø§Ø±ÙÙ_ØªØØªØ¶Ø±(The Polisario is dying) to mark their support for Rabat’s approach to Israel, because they consider it an important step towards the fight against the actions of the Polisario Front.
Now that Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara is recognized, Rabat wants the movement to be internationally categorized as a terrorist organization.
Concerns about standardization
Given King Mohammed VI’s position as chairman of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Al Quds Committee, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state, he reassured Moroccans shortly after the announcement of normalization by declaring that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is as important as the Western Sahara. “Morocco always places the Palestinian question at the rank of the question of the Moroccan Sahara, and the work of Morocco to consolidate its Moroccanness will never be done, neither today nor in the future, to the detriment of the struggle of the Palestinian people for his legitimate rights, âhe said. .
Nonetheless, Moroccans have expressed concerns online about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying normalization is a compromise between the Palestinian state and Western Sahara. Many have used the hashtag # Ø§ÙØªØ·Ø¨ÙØ¹_Ø®ÙØ§ÙØ© (normalization is betrayal) to express their disapproval. In addition, six Moroccan organizations, including the Moroccan Coalition for Human Rights, one of the country’s largest non-governmental organizations, and the Committee for Solidarity with the Palestinian People in Casablanca, called on social media to demonstrate. in front of parliament in December. 14. However, due to the state of emergency declared following the coronavirus pandemic, they were dispersed by the authorities.
Interestingly, Muhammad Amkraz, Minister of Employment and Professional Integration and member of the Youth Party for Justice and Development, Morocco’s main Islamist party, has declared his opposition to normalization with Israel. His statement sparked a petition calling for his sacking, revealing a growing political divide inside Morocco. As a result, Moroccans opposed to normalization are now seen as unpatriotic for not supporting relations with Israel regarding the status of Western Sahara.
In addition to seeking to restore diplomatic relations, the Israeli-Moroccan agreement is seen as an important step in renewing a relationship. On a practical level, it marks the beginning of multiple economic, cultural and social collaborations. It is in this logic that Moroccans ardently hope that, by having good diplomatic relations with Israel and Palestine, it will help a future mediation of peace as the late King Hassan II once negotiated.
Zineb Riboua is a master’s candidate in public policy at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University and founder of the China in MENA project. Follow her on Twitter: @zinebriboua.