The Israel-Morocco Peace Deal: On the Brink of a Civil War?

INTRODUCTION

After having made peace deals with the Arab countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Israel has begun normalizing its relation with Morocco. After having announced it on December 10, 2020, the two countries signed the agreement in Rabat on December 22, 2020, making Morocco the third Arab country that has decided to join Israel and improve its foreign association with Israel. The history between Morocco and Israel is a long one that has been the base of this peace agreement, but, at the same time, it does form an obstacle to normalize the ties between the two countries.

Therefore, it becomes important to ask what are the factors and what effect do they have in this peace agreement. Accordingly, the next article will analyze the history between Morocco and Israel before the normalization deal in 2020, in order to understand what factors might play in a future anti-normalization protest or even a civil war. Secondly, the article will explore the peace deal itself and will try to analyze the benefits of its deal for the future between Morocco and Israel, as well as its consequence in the geopolitical arena. Additionally, it will be argued that, given their history of cooperation, the deal will boost their economic and political situation, but it will most likely trigger a long-term conflict with the regional Polisario Front.

 

ISRAEL AND MOROCCO BEFORE 2020

In the past, Morocco has always been a central figure for Israel, as Morocco and Israel have had for more than 60 years a close “unofficial” relation and collaboration in the social and political area.

In fact, before Israel’s independence declaration in 1948, Morocco, even though an Arab country, accommodated a large amount of Jews, whose 300.000 left Morocco for Israel between 1948 and 1964.[1]  Now Israel can count around one million Israelis that have Moroccan origins, making “it one of the country’s largest sectors of Israeli society”, while thousands of Jews keep living nowadays in Morocco.[2] In addition to this, in 1965, Kind Hassan II permitted the Israeli intelligence Mossad to place bugs in the rooms of the leaders of Arab countries, who were visiting Morocco. This gave Israel crucial and important information, such as the disorganization and vulnerability for war, which later helped Israel win against the Arab countries during the Six-Day War (1967). In these times, the Mossad was asked by the opposition leader Mehdi Ben Barka to participate in his coup to overthrow King Hassan II. Given the special collaboration, Israel revealed the plan to the king and helped him to find the political dissident, who was captured in Paris by the Moroccan official, tortured, and killed. Another prominent event that led to one of the most important milestones in Israel’s history was that Morocco “serve[d] as a key backchannel in peace talks between Israel and Egypt, with Rabat hosting secret meetings between advisers of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat”.[3] Following the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, Israel and Morocco started “low-level diplomatic relations”.[4] Lastly, the Moroccan intelligence organization attempted, although with no success, to help the Mossad in killing the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 1995.[5]

 

THE PEACE DEAL AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

Signed on December 22, 2020, in Rabat, Morocco becomes the fourth Arab country to normalize its ties to Israel and recognize the country.

Under this agreement, the two countries will build full diplomatic relations and will establish their liaison offices in Tel Aviv and Rabat, which will eventually lead to the establishment of embassies. In addition to that, the two countries will establish economic cooperation through their companies. Thanks to this agreement, there will be direct flights between the two capitals, as well as Morocco allows Israel for overflights, thus boosting tourism for each country. [6] On the other hand, the US has declared through the peace deal that they will “recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara”. This condition in the agreement is pivotal in the status quo of Morocco and the northern African countries, as this particular territory has been disputed for a long time by the Algerian movement Polisario Front.[7]

Although this deal is between Morocco and Israel, it involves more players. First of all, not only the Moroccan government and King Mohammed VI has welcomed the deal and subsequently its recognition of supremacy over the Western Sahara, which was an objective since 1975, but a prominent part of the population, having Jewish origins and ties to Israel, welcomed the news. Nevertheless, there is also a part of the population that does not agree with the deal. In fact, since King Mohammed VI is also the chairperson of Al Quds Committee of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which supports the foundation of a Palestinian state. Given his role in the Palestinian cause and the recent normalization deal, Moroccans feel that “the normalization was a trade-off between the Palestinian state and Western Sahara” and disapprove the agreement by using the hashtag #التطبيع_خيانة (“normalization is treason”). As such, many Moroccans and activists have been taking part in demonstrations. Several organizations, including the Moroccan Coalition of Human Rights and the Solidarity Committee with the Palestinian People in Casablanca, have called for a protest on December 14 in front of the parliament.[8]

Closely linked to this, the Palestinians feel betrayed by Morocco. In fact, it seems to Bassam as-Salhi, member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, that Morocco betrayed the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, “which stipulates that normalization comes only after Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands”. This is also viewed by the terrorist organization Hamas in Gaza, whose representative Hazem Qassem declared that the deal “doesn’t serve the Palestinian people”. Nevertheless, King Mohammed VI has assured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that “Rabat stands by a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.[9]

Another consequence of this deal is the dispute about the sovereignty over territories of Western Sahara. Western Sahara is a desert territory annexed by Morocco in 1975 and since then has been disputed between the Moroccan government and the pro-independence Polisario Front, which represents the Saharawi people, for more than 45 years.  Although the insurgency led to a ceasefire agreement in 1991, which pledged for a referendum on self-determination, the 2020 peace agreement and subsequently Morocco’s official recognition as sovereign of this territory was seen as a betrayal and the Polisario Front ended the ceasefire.[10] Consequently, between late October and November 13, the Polisario Front has been launching attacks against Moroccan forces and have been blocking access between Western Sahara and Mauritania through the Guerguerat crossing, which has been later opened by the Moroccan army.[11] Subsequently, the Polisario Front declared war on Morocco and announced that they will “continue fighting for their independence despite any international support towards Morocco”[12]. In addition to them, there is also Algeria, which does not recognize Israel and has already been backing up and supporting the Polisario Front. In fact, the Algerian government has been in the past supplying the Polisario Front with weaponry, financial support, training, as well as establishing refugee camps for the Sahrawi people.[13]

 

THE FUTURE: UNREST IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND A CIVIL WAR IN MOROCCO?

This peace agreement is one of the biggest and most influential milestones in the status quo in the Middle East and the Maghreb.

Given the peace deal, the cooperation between Morocco and Israel is expected to be influential and is seen as positive by both countries. In fact, both countries will benefit from this greatly, as the local businesses will be now able to cooperate and boost the economy through trade and investments. In addition to this, given the historic and cultural link between Morocco and Israel, thanks to the establishment of direct flights, both countries will witness a great boost in the tourist sector. Israeli and Moroccan Jews will be from now on able to easily go to the other country to learn more of their cultural and religious heritage, as well as being a tourist and visit new places. Closely linked to this, is the fact that politically both countries have gained an ally, especially Israel, as in general the Abraham Accords, the peace deals with previous Arab states and Morocco, serve to “enhance[e] security cooperation against regional threats, especially from Iran and its proxies”.[14]

Although the Palestinian population, including the terrorist organization like Hamas, have been critical of the normalization deal, feeling abandoned by the Arab country due to the “abandoning [of] a longstanding demand that Israel gives up land for a Palestinian state before it can receive recognition”. Nevertheless, given their limited arsenal, geographical distance to Morocco, and fear of losing support from the other countries, there will likely not take place any attacks on Morocco.

In the Maghreb, the peace agreement has been increasing geopolitical tensions between Morocco and Algeria. The normalization deal with Israel is negatively seen by Algeria, which sees the event as a way for the “Zionist entity to come closer to [Algeria’s] borders” and fears for Israeli military support for the Moroccan army. As such, Algeria has already warned about a “deterioration of the regional situation along [Algeria’s] border and the threat that certain enemy parties pose”. Nevertheless, the deal and its cooperation between Morocco and Israel pose no real threat to Algeria and no escalation, especially on the border, is expected in the short- and long-term.

At the same time, closely linked to Algeria, is the growing threat that the Polisario Front poses in the Maghreb. Given that the official recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara is seen unfair by the Polisario Front, the unrest and disruptions between the pro-independence group and the Moroccan officials will most likely continue and increase in the number of attacks, unless the UN will draft another ceasefire agreement and the Moroccan authorities will establish a self-determination referendum. Given that Moroccan settlers have been before the peace deal constituting 67% of the territory of Western Sahara,[15] the official recognition will give Morocco jurisdiction to increase the percentage of settlers in the new territory in order to gain more dominance and acknowledgment and of Morocco’s sovereignty in the unstable territory. In the meantime, given the antagonism between Algeria and Morocco, regional tension will be witnessed especially on the border between the two countries, as well as there will most likely be an increase in the financial and military support to the Polisario Front.

 

CONCLUSION

Like the previous accords, the peace deal with Morocco and Israel is a milestone for both countries, as they shared a long history of political and military cooperation, but also a religious and cultural shared heritage. In fact, already before Israel’s establishment, Morocco was the home of many Jews, which after 1948 immigrated to Israel and since then there is a substantial number of Moroccan Jews in Israel. Other than culturally, Morocco and Israel have been unofficially helping each other in military issues. As such, a peace deal between the two countries would have been predicted after the series of Abraham Accords with other Arab countries, like the UAE. This deal will surely boost the economy of both countries through foreign investments, trade, business cooperation, as well as tourism due to the cultural heritage that they share.

At the same time, it triggers new difficulties in the current geopolitical arena, especially in the Maghreb. As part of the deal, Morocco is declared officially sovereign of Western Sahara, a territory that is disputed by the pro-independence Polisario Front. Although this agreement will give the right to Morocco to increase their settlements and their dominance, it will also increase the animosity between the government and the organization. Given precedents and the recently attempted blockade by the Polisario Front, since they see the agreement as unfair and biased to them, the group will likely continue launching attacks to the Moroccan army, if not increase in their attacks in the short- and long-term. Unless the Moroccan government agrees to a self-determination referendum or a particular ceasefire, there might be a possibility of a regional civil war. Closely linked to this, Algeria, which is an adversary to Morocco as well as Israel, will likely not accept the normalization deal with Israel, which will grow some tension between the two countries on the border. Furthermore, since it has been supporting financially and militarily the Polisario Front, it seems that Algeria will most likely continue if not increase their support in the organization.

All in all, this deal has been brightening the future in the Middle East and especially in Israel, but at the cost, there have been new regional conflicts triggered.

Written by Stefania Rinaldi

 

[1] The Jerusalem Post (2020). Israelis of Moroccan origin can ‘bridge’ and strengthen ties with Rabat. Recovered from: https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/israelis-of-moroccan-origin-can-bridge-and-strengthen-ties-with-rabat-652003.

[2] Al Jazeera (2020). Israel, Morocco agree to normalise relations in US-brokered deal. Recovered from: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/12/10/israel-morocco-agree-to-normalise-relations-in-us-brokered-deal.

[3] The Times of Israel (2020). A look at Israel’s decades-long covert intelligence ties with Morocco. Recovered from: https://www.timesofisrael.com/a-look-at-israels-decades-long-covert-intelligence-ties-with-morocco/.

[4] Al Jazeera, Morocco.

[5] The Times of Israel, Ties.

[6] Reuters (2020). Morocco joins other Arab nations agreeing to normalize Israel ties. Recovered from: https://www.reuters.com/article/israel-usa-morocco-int-idUSKBN28K2CW.

[7] Al Jazeera, Morocco.

[8] Atlantic Council (2020). How Moroccans reacted to normalization with Israel. Recovered from: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/how-moroccans-reacted-to-normalization-with-israel/.

[9] Al Jazeera, Morocco.

[10] BBC (2020). Morocco latest country to normalise ties with Israel in US-brokered deal. Recovered from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-55266089.

[11] Human Rights Watch (2020). Western Sahara: Morocco Cracks Down on Activists – US Recognition of Moroccan Sovereignty Doesn’t Change Territory’s Status. Recovered from: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/12/18/western-sahara-morocco-cracks-down-activists.

[12] The Organization for World Peace (2020). Algeria Remains Critical Of Israel-Morocco Deal. Recovered from: https://theowp.org/algeria-remains-critical-of-israel-morocco-deal/.

[13] The Organization for World Peace, Algeria.

[14] Council on Foreign Relations (2020). What’s Behind the New Israel-UAE Peace Deal? Recovered from: https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/whats-behind-new-israel-uae-peace-deal.

[15] The Organization for World Peace, Algeria.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Al Jazeera (2020). Israel, Morocco agree to normalise relations in US-brokered deal. Recovered from: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/12/10/israel-morocco-agree-to-normalise-relations-in-us-brokered-deal.

Atlantic Council (2020). How Moroccans reacted to normalization with Israel. Recovered from: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/how-moroccans-reacted-to-normalization-with-israel/.

BBC (2020). Morocco latest country to normalise ties with Israel in US-brokered deal. Recovered from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-55266089.

Council on Foreign Relations (2020). What’s Behind the New Israel-UAE Peace Deal? Recovered from: https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/whats-behind-new-israel-uae-peace-deal.

Human Rights Watch (2020). Western Sahara: Morocco Cracks Down on Activists – US Recognition of Moroccan Sovereignty Doesn’t Change Territory’s Status. Recovered from: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/12/18/western-sahara-morocco-cracks-down-activists.

Reuters (2020). Morocco joins other Arab nations agreeing to normalize Israel ties. Recovered from: https://www.reuters.com/article/israel-usa-morocco-int-idUSKBN28K2CW.

The Jerusalem Post (2020). Israelis of Moroccan origin can ‘bridge’ and strengthen ties with Rabat. Recovered from: https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/israelis-of-moroccan-origin-can-bridge-and-strengthen-ties-with-rabat-652003.

The Organization for World Peace (2020). Algeria Remains Critical Of Israel-Morocco Deal. Recovered from: https://theowp.org/algeria-remains-critical-of-israel-morocco-deal/.

The Times of Israel (2020). A look at Israel’s decades-long covert intelligence ties with Morocco. Recovered from: https://www.timesofisrael.com/a-look-at-israels-decades-long-covert-intelligence-ties-with-morocco/.

Picture source: Aljazeera (2020, December 11). “Doesn´t serve Palestinians”: Israel- Morocco to normalise ties. Retrieved from: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/12/11/world-reacts-to-israeli-moroccan-deal-to-normalise-ties.

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