Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Morocco’s Normalization with Israel, yet to See Fruits

Morocco’s normalization with Israel fell short of Moroccan aspirations, disappointing a significant portion of the Moroccan populace.

Morocco’s Normalization with Israel
Moroccan and Israeli flags. JACK GUEZ / AFP

Ali Noureddine

This article was translated from Arabic to English

On December 22, 2020, Morocco signed a tripartite agreement with Israel and the United States to normalize Moroccan-Israeli relations. Part of the broader “Abraham Accords” initiative spearheaded by former U.S. President Donald Trump, this agreement sought to normalize Israel’s relations with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Morocco.

Throughout this diplomatic endeavor, the U.S. committed to providing various political, financial and investment incentives to encourage Arab countries to engage in normalization agreements.

Like other Arab nations, Morocco pursued multiple objectives through the normalization agreement with Israel which included enhancing its military capabilities, addressing the Western Sahara dispute and attracting foreign investments. Israel also had its set of goals in this agreement, including integration into the Arab regional context, bolstering security and military cooperation and gaining recognition from an additional Arab nation.

However, as we assess the situation three years after the initiation of the normalization process, it is clear Morocco has yet to see its intended outcomes, as opposed to Israel, which successfully realized its goals in this trajectory.

Israel’s and Morocco’s goals from the agreement

Unlike the other Abraham Accords, Morocco pursued a tripartite agreement involving the United States alongside Israel. The primary objective was to secure specific commitments from the American administration in exchange for normalizing relations with Israel. This approach hinted at Morocco’s strategic goals within the agreement.

A pivotal provision of the accord was the United States’ recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara territory. The agreement also endorsed Morocco’s proposal to settle its dispute with the Polisario Front over this region through a principle of regional autonomy within Morocco, without seeking secession.

Morocco further pressed for provisions that bound the United States to support economic development and investment in the Western Sahara, culminating in the establishment of an American consulate to reinforce the authority of the Moroccan government in the region.

In this context, Morocco sought American backing to advance the Western Sahara issue based on its vision, in exchange for normalizing relations with Israel. Upon signing the agreement, then-U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to engage in negotiations with the Polisario Front and “all regional actors,” indirectly referring to Algeria, a supporter of the Front’s demands. Morocco relied on American pressure to ease Algeria’s stance on this issue, which had long strained Moroccan-Algerian relations.

Additionally, Morocco aimed to leverage the normalization agreement to attract investments from Moroccan Jews in Israel and around the world, particularly in sectors related to food security, scientific research, communications and water resources. Given Morocco’s longstanding water scarcity crisis, the country aimed to position itself as an attractive investment hub in North Africa. Consequently, Morocco swiftly initiated an Israeli-Moroccan economic forum to foster collaboration between Moroccan entrepreneurs and Israeli investors and explore partnership opportunities.

Simultaneously, Morocco placed its bets on advanced Israeli military technologies, particularly in the fields of security, intelligence, air defense and drones. The objective was two-fold: to equip its military with state-of-the-art weaponry and to bolster the development of its domestic defense industry. This military enhancement was seen as crucial in bolstering Morocco’s negotiating position, especially concerning its conflicts with Algeria to the east and the Polisario Front in the south.

Israel, for its part, viewed the agreement as a means to enhance its legitimacy within the Arab region by gaining Morocco’s recognition and establishing diplomatic relations between the two nations. In this vein, Israel insisted on provisions facilitating the “immediate” resumption of relations and the authorization of direct flights between the two countries. Consequently, Israel succeeded in establishing direct diplomatic relations with Morocco through mutual liaison offices following the agreement’s signing.

Israel’s interests extended beyond diplomacy and included security and intelligence coordination, particularly to counter Iranian influence in the northwest African region. In the years preceding the agreement, Israel had expressed concerns about Algerian-Iranian rapprochement and the Polisario Front’s alleged receipt of military support from Iran.

These shared concerns led to a convergence of interests with Morocco, which had accused Iran of supporting the Polisario Front’s separatist efforts and subsequently severed diplomatic ties with Iran in 2018.

Moreover, Israel perceived military cooperation with Morocco as an opportunity to market its military products, given Morocco’s substantial annual military spending of approximately $5 billion during 2021 and 2022. Morocco’s strong relations with the European Union and the United States offered Israel an advantageous platform to expand its sale of advanced weaponry without significant Western objections.

Morocco unable to reap the benefits of normalization

Three years have passed since the normalization agreement was signed, and Morocco has yet to reap the benefits anticipated in 2020. Initially, when the agreement was signed, the Trump administration supported Morocco’s proposal to resolve the Western Sahara dispute, a stance in line with the commitments of previous American administrations prior to normalizing relations with Israel. However, the U.S. did not follow through on Trump’s promises, and has failed to exert the expected pressure to advance negotiations on Western Sahara and implement the Moroccan proposal.

Instead, the United States merely backed the ongoing peace process led by the United Nations concerning the Western Sahara conflict. The commitment to engage in negotiations with regional parties to implement the “autonomy” solution remained unfulfilled. With Trump’s departure from office, the Biden administration distanced itself from Trump’s positions and commitments, including those made to Morocco during the normalization agreement.

Furthermore, factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted travel between Morocco and Israel in 2020 and 2021, while Morocco grappled with the economic challenges of 2022 and 2023. Consequently, the normalization agreement did not lead to the substantial increase in Israeli investments that Morocco had expected.

In contrast, Israel benefited from military and security cooperation agreements, becoming a prominent supplier of advanced and expensive equipment to Morocco. The growth in Moroccan-Israeli relations also helped alleviate the international isolation faced by Netanyahu’s government, which presented this as an achievement to Israeli public opinion, particularly given the external pressures confronting his right-wing government.

The Moroccan-Israeli normalization process has fallen short of Moroccan aspirations, resulting in disappointment among a significant portion of the Moroccan populace.

The tumultuous and violent events in Gaza since October 7, 2023, have further exacerbated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, raising questions about the future of the normalization path between Arab countries and Israel.

This path’s viability hinges on a just and final resolution to the Palestinian issue and whether Arab nations can secure certain concessions from Israel on behalf of the Palestinians.

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