RABAT (Reuters) – Israeli envoys arrived in Morocco on Tuesday to meet its king and hammer out an upgrade of ties that was forged by the White House in a parting foreign policy push by U.S. President Donald Trump.
Led by National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, the Israeli delegation was accompanied by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and architect of pan-Arab rapprochement with Israel.
They took El Al Israel Airlines in the first direct flight by a commercial plane from Tel Aviv to Rabat. Both countries anticipate a surge in tourism aboard such connections, mainly among the hundreds of thousands of Israelis of Moroccan descent.
Morocco followed the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in moving toward normal relations with Israel. Palestinians have censured the U.S.-brokered deals, seeing a betrayal of a long-standing demand that Israel first meet their statehood goals.
As the Trump administration has sought to isolate Iran, the deals have been sweetened with promises of business opportunities or economic aid. Israel’s new partners have also enjoyed bilateral benefits from Washington – in Rabat’s case, U.S. recognition of its sovereignty over the Western Sahara.
“This type of agreement (with Israel) will help have a better interaction between communities and people,” Moroccan Tourism Minister Nadia Fettah Alaoui told I24 television.
During the visit, Ben-Shabbat and Kushner will see Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, Israeli officials said. Moroccan and Israeli officials are also scheduled to sign accords on linking up aviation and financial systems, on visas and water management.
The delegates’ plane, painted with the Hebrew, Arabic and English words for “peace” and a Maghreb good-luck talisman, had a low-key reception at Rabat airport. Moroccan officials describe their deal with Israel as a restoration of mid-level ties that Rabat cooled in 2000 in solidarity with Palestinians.
Israel and Morocco now plan to reopen mutual “liaison offices”. Israel hopes these will be upgraded to embassies.
Asked if the countries might establish full diplomatic relations before Trump steps down next month, Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Ynet TV: “My understanding is that the likelihood is not high.”
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Mark Heinrich)
Photo A handout photo made available by U.S Embassy in Morocco of the first direct flight by a commercial plane from Tel Aviv to Rabat with the national flags of Morocco, Israel and the United States in Rabat’s airport, Rabat, Morocco, 22 December 2020. The US-Israeli delegation led by US senior White House advisor Jared Kushner and Israel’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat will meet King Mohammed VI as part of efforts to boost normalization talks. The visit comes less than two weeks after Morocco joined a number of Arab countries to start normalizing relations with Israel. EPA-EFE/U.S EMBASSY IN MOROCCO