Israel sends senior official to Morocco for the first time since ties normalized

The Moroccan and Israeli foreign ministers signed three agreements on Wednesday during the first visit by a senior Jewish state official since ties were normalized last year.

Nasser Bourita and his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid signed agreements on political consultations, aviation and culture.

Lapid told reporters that the agreements “will bring innovation and opportunities to our countries for the benefit of our children – and their children – for years to come.”

Israel and Morocco reached an agreement last year after then-US President Donald Trump recognized Morocco’s controversial sovereignty in Western Sahara.

“Today we are restoring peace, restoring friendship,” Lapid said.

Morocco was the fourth Arab state to establish ties with Israel last year after the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

The move angered the Palestinians as it broke the long-standing Arab consensus that there should be no normalization until Israel agrees to a comprehensive and lasting peace.

Bourita said that during his talks with Lapid the situation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories was raised.

“King Mohammed VI insists on the need to break the current stalemate and resume negotiations, as the only means of reaching a solution based on two states living side by side on the 1967 borders,” Bourita said.

The monarch had assured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after the normalization of ties that Morocco would continue to support the Palestinian cause.

“It is urgent that measures be taken today to restore confidence and maintain calm, to open a political horizon to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Bourita said.

Lapid said he preferred to focus on normalizing ties between Israel and the Arab countries.

“Something is happening in the region,” he said.

On Thursday, Lapid will officially open the diplomatic representation of Israel in the capital, Rabat.

‘A big step’

The US embassy in Rabat called Lapid’s visit “a great step forward,” in a message on Twitter.

“Strengthening this relationship will create new opportunities for peace and prosperity to flourish in the region,” the embassy added.

He listed the “real benefits” created, including “direct commercial flights, economic cooperation and the opening of liaison offices.”

Before the Bourita-Lapid meeting, the Israeli delegation visited the royal mausoleum, where Kings Hassan II and Mohammed V. are buried.

Lapid is also expected to visit the Beth-El synagogue in Casablanca on his two-day visit, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said.

“Proud to represent Israel during this historic visit,” Lapid wrote on Twitter, just after his flight operated by the Israeli national airline El Al landed.

His visit comes just over two weeks after direct flights were launched between Israel and Morocco.

Since then, the first Israeli tourists have entered Morocco’s tourist magnet, Marrakech, and Casablanca.

Before the pandemic, between 50,000 and 70,000 Israeli tourists, mainly of Moroccan origin, visited it annually, although in transit through third countries.

Great Jewish community

The North African country is home to the largest Jewish community in the Arab world of some 3,000 people.

They are the remnant of a community that was once much larger. Some 700,000 Jews of Moroccan descent now live in Israel.

Morocco and Israel maintained liaison offices in the 1990s, before closing them during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, which lasted between 2000 and 2005.

Lapid’s visit to Rabat follows a June trip to the United Arab Emirates, where he inaugurated the new Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi.

It comes just days before Israel requires all travelers returning from Morocco to be quarantined following a review of the risks of Covid-19 infection.

Last December, Israel and Morocco signed agreements on water, aviation and finance, when a delegation of Israeli officials arrived on a first direct flight between Rabat and Tel Aviv.

And in July, the two countries signed a cyber defense cooperation agreement in Rabat.

Lapid’s trip comes after human rights groups accused Morocco last month of using the Israeli spyware program Pegasus.

Rabat flatly denied the reports and said it was suing human rights groups.

(AFP)

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