What happened: Foreign Minister Yair Lapid successfully concluded a historic two-day visit to Morocco, hosted by Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.
- Lapid was joined by Welfare Minister Meir Cohen, who was born in Morocco, and Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee Chairman Ram Ben Barak, both members of Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.
- Yesterday at the ceremony inaugurating the new Israeli diplomatic mission in Rabat, Lapid said, “Something is happening in the Middle East. People and leaders look at Libya and Syria and Lebanon and say to themselves, ‘This is not what we want for our children. This is not what we want for ourselves.’”
- “The only war worth devoting our lives to is not against our neighbour, or against anyone who prays differently from us. The only war that has meaning is the war on poverty, the war on ignorance, the war on epidemics and drought.”
- Lapid continued, “In the Holy Koran it is written: ‘If they lean towards peace, you too incline to it.’ (Sura 8, verse 61). Hostility and hatred are created by human beings, and human beings can also decide to bring them to an end.”
- During his visit Lapid also visited the mausoleum where King Mohamed V is buried. He also visited a synagogue in Casablanca, where Israeli singer Shimon Bouskila, who is of Moroccan descent, sang one of his famous songs in Moroccan Arabic.
- Concluding his visit, Lapid said that strategically, they had created a political axis of Israel, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, and to a certain extent Greece and Cyprus as well. “This poses a pragmatic alternative to religious extremism. We are creating a cycle of life in the face of the cycle of death created by Iran and its emissaries.”
- The visit received the support of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who released a statement saying “the reopening of the Israeli Liaison Office in Rabat are significant for Israel, Morocco, and the broader region. The United States will continue to work with Israel and Morocco to strengthen all aspects of our partnerships and create a more peaceful, secure, and prosperous future for all the people of the Middle East.”
Context: Israel and Morocco re-established relations in December 2020 under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the encouragement of President Donald Trump who agreed to recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara.
- Historically there was a large Jewish community in Morocco. Morocco had around 260,000 Jews in 1948, but the vast majority were expelled or fled in the years following Israel’s independence.
- However, individual Moroccan Jews have served as ministers and close advisers in the royal court and it was through covert contacts with Morocco in 1970s that led to Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt.
- Morocco established formal relations following Israel’s interim peace accords with the Palestinians in the 1990s. However, in 2000, after the outbreak of the Second Intifada, Morocco ended all diplomatic ties with Israel and closed its mission in Tel Aviv.
- Lapid is the first high-ranking Israeli representative to visit Morocco since the Abraham Accords were signed. He is the first Israeli foreign minister to visit Morocco since Silvan Shalom in 2003.
- Lapid enjoyed warm hospitality from Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, and other members of the government. However, Moroccan Prime Minister Saadeddine El Othmani of the Islamic Justice and Development Party, refused to meet Lapid – El Othmani’s party did not support the renewal of ties with Israel. King Mohammed VI was supportive of renewed relations between the countries.
- Both sides now see the opportunity to expand economic, commercial cooperation and increase tourism. The foreign ministers also signed cooperation agreements in the fields of culture, sports, aviation and tourism.
- Bourita is also keen to harness Israeli expertise in agricultural technology and the use of water.
- Another area of cooperation is in cyber security. Last month the director general of the Israel National Cyber Directorate Yigal Unna and his Moroccan counterpart, General Mostafa El Rabii, alongside Moroccan Defence Minister Abdellatif Loudiyi agreed to establish cooperation in operational fields, research and development.
Looking ahead: Both sides are hoping, post coronavirus, for an increase in tourism which will further enhance efforts to create people to people peace. There will be direct flights and an easing of visa requirements.
- The sides are also anticipating an increase in trade and economic cooperation, particularly in the fields of agriculture, environmentally friendly energy and cyber security.
- The foreign ministers agreed that Morocco and Israel will upgrade their ties to the highest level and exchange embassies, within two months.
- It was also agreed that Bourita will visit Israel later this year, depending on the coronavirus situation.