Israel considers recognition of Morocco's rule over Western Sahara
Israel is considering recognising Moroccan sovereignty over disputed Western Sahara, in a move Israeli officials hope could further cement growing ties to Rabat.
The move is being debated as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, met Moroccan foreign minister Nasser Bourita in Rabat on Wednesday.
A statement by Netanyahu’s office said the officials discussed “strengthening cooperation between the two countries in the areas of statecraft and security”.
The head of Israel’s diplomatic mission in Rabat said on Tuesday that the Israeli and Moroccan foreign ministries were discussing Western Sahara and “the final decision will be a decision made by both our ministers”.
In exchange for recognition, Morocco could upgrade diplomatic ties with Israel, Reuters reported. The countries’ diplomatic missions, currently designated as liaison offices, could become full embassies. A free trade pact is also under consideration.
Western Sahara remains one of Africa’s most intractable and longest-running territorial disputes, pitting the Kingdom of Morocco against the Polisario Front, a national liberation movement representing the indigenous Sahrawi people.
Morocco, which annexed the territory after Spain withdrew from its former colony in 1975, considers the territory its “Southern Provinces”. The Polisario Front has demanded a referendum, but Morocco has rejected this, proposing autonomy instead.
Polisario fought a war with Morocco from 1975 to 1991 when a ceasefire deal was agreed and the UN deployed a mission - MINURSO - to monitor the truce and arrange a referendum that has yet to take place.
Around 175,000 Sahrawi refugees live in camps across the border in Algeria. Rabat accuses its neighbour of arming the movement, a charge Algeria denies.
The US recognised Morocco’s claim of sovereignty over Western Sahara in exchange for Rabat’s normalisation of ties with Israel in 2020. The Biden Administration has not departed from that position.
The Arab-Israeli Negev Summit is set to be held in Morocco later this year. The summit was first held last year at Israel’s Sde Boker kibbutz, which saw the foreign ministers of Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, and the United States come together.
The aim of the meetings is to further enshrine the Abraham Accords by increasing coordination between the countries on issues such as security, energy, tourism, education, and water security.
Israel and Morocco have already signed a series of agreements to strengthen bilateral ties, including transportation deals that allow Israelis to use their driving licenses in Morocco, encourage direct shipping between the two, and exchange on matters related to road safety and transport innovation.
Tourism has also led to at least 200,000 Israelis visiting Morocco, with bilateral trade growing between the two countries in 2022.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.