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Editor's Report: Israel and Morocco Normalize Relations. Will Saudi Arabia normalize relations with Israel?

by Rhonda Spivak, Dec 28, 2020

The United States under President Trump's leadership has brokered another historic normalization agreement, this time between Morocco and Israel that was announced on December 10. Morocco appears to have received several goodies from the US for entering this agreement, the first of which is that the  US has recognized the disputed Western Sahara region as a part of Morocco. Morocco apparently didn't expect Joe Biden to give them this recognition which is why Morocco decided to proceed to normalize relations with Israel under President Trump, not Biden. Now that this recognition relating to the Western Sahara is a fait accompli, Morocco is counting on Biden not to overturn this recognition.

The New York Times reported that a day after Rabat agreed to normalize its ties with Israel that The United States is considering investing up to $3 billion in Moroccan institutions. The Times reported that the International Development Finance Corporation, a US government body which was formed last year by President Donald Trump, was considering investments worth up to $3 billion in Moroccan banks and hotels, and also for a renewable energy company that belongs to King Mohammed VI of Morocco himself. (Note that Morocco likely made an assessment that Joe Biden's administration would probably not have offered Morocco this degree of US aid, such that it was better to conclude a deal under Trump than Biden)
Reuters reported on Dec 11 that Trump’s administration is moving forward with $1 billion in sales of drones and precision-guided weapons to Morocco, sending a notice to Congress about the potential deals. The deal includes four MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones and precision-guided munitions  sources told Reuters. Note that these drones are the same type being sold to the UAE after their normalization agreement with with Israel. 
Israel has a large and thriving community of Moroccan immigrants and descendants. Prime Minister Netanyahu expects this to be a "warm" peace. It is expected that many Israelis, including many of Moroccan descent will flock to Rabat, Marrakech, Casablanca, Tangiers and Fez.
Israel could provide Morocco with know-how in the fields of agriculture, drinking water and technology as well as security and intelligence cooperation. It would be remiss to say that the deal between Israel and Morocco is merely an arms deal. But in The New York Times, Ronen Bergman outlines that the two countries have had a lengthy history of  secret cooperation regarding weapons and spying: “Israel has helped Morocco obtain weapons and intelligence-gathering gear and learn how to use them, and helped it assassinate an opposition leader. Morocco has helped Israel take in Moroccan Jews, mount an operation against Osama bin Laden — and even spy on other Arab countries.”
Morocco, like other Arab states who  have  normalized relations with Israel, views Iran as the main problem in the region. (When Spain left Western Sahara  in the '70s, it was annexed by Morocco, but the Algerian-backed Polisario Front has sought independence for the Sahrawi people. In 2018, Morocco discovered that Iran’s terror proxy Hezbollah was supplying Polisario rebels with arms including surface-to-air missiles, which lead to Morocco’s cutting ties with Tehran in 2018.)

According to Aljazeera, Bassam as-Salhi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, has condemned the deal between Morocco and Israel. “Any Arab retreat from the [2002] Arab Peace Initiative, which stipulates that normalisation comes only after Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands, is unacceptable and increases Israel’s belligerence and its denial of the Palestinian people’s rights,” Salhi is quoted as saying. But Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Bahrian and Oman, on the other hand, have  have welcomed the deal, as have the foreign ministers of the European Union, Spain, and Czech Republic. An Iranian official on Dec 11 called it a" Betrayal and stab in the back" of the Palestinians.
It's worth noting that Israel and Morocco established low-level diplomatic relations during the 1990s after Israel’s Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians, but those ties were cut following the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000.
There is a lot of speculation about whether the normalization deal with Morocco will herald an upcoming accord between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Trump's senior adviser, Jared Kushner, said after the peace announcement between Israel and Morocco that normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia is inevitable.
“Israel and Saudi Arabia coming together and having full normalization at this point is an inevitability, but the timeframe, obviously, will come — is something that has to be worked out,” Kushner told reporters. He added it would require “strong US leadership in the region."
I watched Israeli Channel 12 TV over the internet in Hebrew and analyst Ehud Yaari indicated that no country is as close to Saudi Arabia as Morocco is. He pointed out that that Saudi princes have large palaces in Morocco and some are married to local women: “Morocco’s step should make it easier for the Saudis to make a similar move,” Yaari opined.
Israel Hayom’s Daniel Siryoti  wrote on Dec 11 that "Diplomats in the United Arab Emirates and Morocco confirmed to Israel Hayom that officials in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi were instrumental in advancing the peace deal between Israel and Morocco. According to officials in Riyadh, the Saudi position on the prospect of normalization with Israel has changed in recent weeks. This change is linked to the close relations between Rabat and Riyadh, hence the possibility of the Saudi monarchy making a similar move with Israel in the near future. The English-language newspaper Arab News, which is owned by the Saudi royal family, even ran a complimentary front-page story about the Israeli-Moroccan peace deal, in what could be seen as laying the groundwork for something similar with Saudi Arabia."
Diplomatic sources also told Israeli Channel  12 TV on Friday Dec 11 that Saudia Arabia played a role in the deal between Israel and Morocco. The report did not ,however, give details of the Saudi involvement. 
In this regard, it's worth noting that there is a new Saudi poll that shows a sharp rise in support for ties with Israel.( The new public opinion poll commissioned by the Washington Institute shows that the Saudi public is increasingly open to contacts with Israel,  albeit there is still a majority in Saudi Arabia who oppose such ties. 41% call the agreements between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain a "positive development, while 54% label the agreements as negative.    37% agree that "people who want to have business or sports contacts with Israelis should be allowed to do so," compared to 9% who agreed in June 2020. 61% disagree, compared to 86% in June.
Also of interest is that there has been a notable reduction of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist content in Saudi Arabian textbooks for the coming school year, according to  a recently released report from a Jerusalem-based monitoring group.
However, many analysts have speculated that Saudia Arabia is not yet ready to normalize relations with Israel, particularly while King Salman, who is viewed as opposing such a dramatic move, is alive.
Yet, according to an article in the Jerusalem Post of Dec 28, 2020, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has secretly visited Israel. The Post has also learned that there are expectations among some of Israel’s highest echelons that there will be normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia by the end of 2021.
Morocco is the fourth country since August to enter into a deal aimed at normalizing relations with Israel, following the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.
Saudia Arabia has not yet commented on the Morocco-Israel normalization deal. However since Saudi Arabia is such a leader in the region, especially among Sunni States, many analysts believe that none of the recent normalization deals would have occurred without getting a green light from Saudi Arabia.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.