With Morocco-Israel deal, US looks to maintain role in peace accords

For the Trump administration, the renewal of ties between Israel and Morocco is first and foremost a reason to auto-congratulate and make speeches.

al-monitor David T. Fischer (L), US Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco, and his wife, Jennifer (R), stand before a US State Department-authorized map of Morocco recognizing the internationally disputed territory of Western Sahara (bearing a signature by Fischer) as a part of the North African kingdom, in Morocco's capital, Rabat, on Dec. 12, 2020.  Photo by AFP via Getty Images.

Dec 22, 2020

The joint Israeli-American delegation met this evening in Rabat with Moroccan King Mohammed VI. Israeli and Moroccan representatives are expected to sign tonight a series of cooperation agreements in the fields of water management, financial relations, investments, visa exemption and direct flights. The delegations are currently conducting talks on cooperation in the fields of tourism and agriculture. At the first stage, both countries agreed to reopen the respective liaison offices that operated between 1993 and 2000 in Rabat and Tel Aviv. Both countries have kept and maintained the buildings where the liaison offices were hosted despite the closures. Opening of embassies is expected at a later stage, probably within a few months.

Shortly after arrival in Rabat, Foreign Minister Director-General Alon Ushpiz and Foreign Ministry Chief of Staff Haim Regev met with senior officials within the Moroccan Foreign Ministry. Apart from meeting the king, the joint Israeli-American delegation is set to meet with Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani, government ministers and senior officials. The delegation is expected to come back to Israel late tonight or early Wednesday morning.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner arrived yesterday to Israel ahead of the trip and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. After the meeting, Netanyahu tweeted "I want to thank President Donald Trump for his staunch support and leadership, for all that he has done for the State of Israel. I think we're all deeply indebted [to] him, deeply indebted to his great actions and his great leadership, and we think that these achievements will stand like these peace agreements." Netanyahu also complimented Kushner personally, tweeting, "I thank you Jared, and I want to thank all of you for assisting this great effort. We will never forget it. Thank you all."

Indeed, analysts say that Rabat’s agreement to renew ties with Jerusalem was achieved only after strong pressure from Washington and a series of American gestures, including on Western Sahara and several arms deals. According to some reports, Rabat would rather not have a public agreement signature ceremony at the White House similar to the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel, the Emirates and Bahrain on Sept. 15.

The American omnipresence was apparent also at the ceremony held at Ben Gurion International Airport this morning, just before the departure of the joint delegation to Rabat. Much like the departure of the Israeli-American joint delegation to Abu Dhabi in September, the event was recorded and broadcast by the US Embassy in Jerusalem, not by Israeli authorities, and it was the Americans calling the shots at the airport. On the podium there stood several American senior officials, including Kushner, envoy Avi Berkowitz and Ambassador David Friedman, but only one Israeli representative: national adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat. It was only after the speeches that the Foreign Ministry’s Ushpiz was invited to join the group for a photo op.

"My hope is that this flight today to Morocco will create the same amount of momentum [as with the Emirates], as there is so much shared history and culture between Israel and Morocco, and the people are dying to get to know each other, to be together and to share culture and understanding," said Kushner. These are words that might have sounded a bit strange to Israelis of Moroccan origins who do not need to be told how much the two peoples have shared over the years or how close they are.

Netanyahu’s choice of Ben-Shabbat to head the Israeli delegation signals to Israelis that it is the prime minister, not Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, who manages and advances the country’s diplomacy. Several Israeli diplomats who had served in Rabat at the liaison office in the 1990s are still working at the ministry. It would have been only natural for the Foreign Ministry to take the lead here, especially since the agreements to be signed during the visit are classical diplomatic accords. They do not include any agreement on strategic or security cooperation.

But that’s not all. The choice of Ben-Shabbat goes in the same sense of the American omnipresence. It means that the renewal of ties is not necessarily a diplomatic move between two countries wishing to change their relations for the better. It is a deal designed first and foremost to glorify Trump. At a second level, it is designed to glorify Netanyahu. And only after all that comes the goal of reestablishing ties between the Israeli and the Moroccan peoples. Less than a month before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, some world leaders might consider Trump a lame duck. Obviously, Netanyahu is not one of them.

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