Rabat rejects recent allegations made in Israeli media that the country will have direct flights with Tel Aviv, implying that the Palestinian cause is “a red line” for Morocco.
Contrary to Israeli media projection, Morocco, a north African state which strongly supports the Palestinian cause, has refused to normalise relations with the Zionist state.
As the country has a vibrant civil society, espousing pro-Palestinian views, Rabat does not appear to be following the Arab Gulf, most of which, except for Qatar, has adopted a rapprochement policy with Israel.
Most recently, Moroccan officials have denied Israeli media reports which have claimed that Rabat and Tel Aviv will allow direct flights to operate between the two countries.
On Saturday, The Jerusalem Post reported that direct flights will be launched “as the next step in US President Donald Trump’s normalisation efforts,” quoting N12, an Israeli TV.
But sources in Morocco’s diplomatic circles, speaking to both the Israeli and Moroccon media sources, described the Jerusalem Post report as “fake news”.
In late August, the Moroccan Prime Minister, Saad Dine El Otmani, also denied “any normalisation with the Zionist entity because this emboldens it to go further in breaching the rights of the Palestinian people.”
Otmani, who is also the leader of the Justice and Development Party (JDP), a religiously-minded political group, also described Morocco’s Palestine stance as “a red line” policy for Rabat.
Analysts think that Morocco’s active civil and political life, much of which fiercely refuses any kind of normalisation with Tel Aviv, is one of the main reasons for the north African country’s unchanged public stance towards Israel.
In the 1980s, when the previous King Hassan II, the father of the current King Mohammed VI, appeared to have intentions to do something about relations with Israel, he faced a powerful backlash from both Moroccans and the Arab world – it ultimately forced him to backtrack from his attempt.
However, behind-the-scenes, Morocco has kept secret relations mostly intact with Israel since the 1960s when the previous King Hassan II, the father of the current King Muhammed VI, established clandestine links with Tel Aviv.
Unlike many other Arab countries, whose Jewish populations have left in significant numbers since the establishment of Israel in 1948, Morocco, a tolerant state to other faiths, still has a sizable Jewish population compared to other Arab countries. The current king even continues to keep a Jewish-Moroccan adviser in his governance.
After Israelis and Palestinians agreed to implement a peace plan reached during the Oslo talks in 1993, Rabat established low-level official ties with Tel Aviv. In 2000, however, in the wake of the Palestinian Intifada (Rebellion), official relations between the countries ended.
Will the Western Sahara issue play a role in Morocco-Israel ties?
US President Donald Trump has played a crucial role to ensure both the UAE and Bahrain normalisation processes with Israel. In exchange, he apparently has been promising political and military security to the Gulf countries against threats emanating from any power, primarily Iran.
Some have long argued that Rabat’s normalisation with Israel is strongly tied to Washington’s policy change regarding Morocco’s long political issue in Western Sahara.
Last month, an adviser to the Moroccan prime minister argued that “a deal to normalise relations would have to be tied to American recognition of Morocco’s territorial claims in Western Sahara,” according to Israel Hayom.
Since the end of the Spanish occupation in Western Sahara, the region has been contested territory between Morocco and the Polisario Front. The Front fought against Spanish occupation until 1975; parts of Western Sahara were annexed by Morocco and Mauritania in 1976.
The Front has clashed on occasion with both Morocco and Mauritania forces, with Algerian support. Mauritania left Western Sahara in 1979, but Morocco continues to maintain its presence there. Rabat has direct control over much of the region after building a 2,700-kilometre-long wall in the Sahara in the 1980s. There are UN-monitored buffer zones west of the wall.
In 1976, the Front declared an independent state in the Sahara, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) which is not recognised internationally. A ceasefire in 1991 mostly brought clashes between the Front and Morocco to an end.
Rabat regards Sahara as part of Moroccan territory, calling the region its southern provinces.