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Gaza War Hinders Israel’s Budding Thaw With Morocco

Israel’s fledgling rapprochement with Morocco, which had made steady progress in the three years since the two governments normalised relations, has been thrown into reverse by the deadly conflict in Gaza.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators have returned to the streets of the North African nation, as the death toll from some seven weeks of Israeli bombardment in Gaza has risen to nearly 15,000, mostly civilians, according to Hamas officials.

The Israeli liaison office in Rabat was reportedly evacuated last month amid security concerns and Israeli visitors have disappeared from tourism hubs like Marrakesh and Essaouira, along with many of the restaurants opened to cater for them.

All flights between the two countries have been suspended since the October 7 attacks by Hamas, which killed at least 1,200 people, most of them civilians, according to Israeli officials.

The outbreak of the conflict in Gaza also sparked an exodus of Israeli tourists and investors from Morocco.

“Overnight there was no one left,” said Michel Cohen, the French-Israeli owner of a kosher restaurant in Marrakesh that is now closed.

“The Israelis that were there have left. They were very scared,” he said.

Out of 14 kosher restaurants that had opened in Marrakesh since Morocco’s normalisation of relations with Israel in 2020, 12 have since closed.

The 2020 normalisation deal between Israel and Morocco led to a flurry of ministerial visits between the two countries and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was expected in Rabat before the end of this year.

But the scale of public anger over the war in Gaza has made such a visit unthinkable for the time being at least.

“Civil society expressed its discontent and Rabat had to take into account this popular demand,” said Zakaria Abouddahab, an international relations professor at Mohammed V University.

As the conflict has worn on, Rabat has issued increasingly strongly worded statements.

In the early days of the war, the foreign ministry expressed “deep concern” and condemned attacks on civilians by both sides.

But earlier this month, during an Arab-Islamic summit in Saudi Arabia, Morocco condemned Israel for “persevering in its blatant aggression against unarmed civilians” in Gaza.

Among the pro-Palestinian protesters on Morocco’s streets, there have been mounting calls for the government to scrap the normalisation deal with Israel.

But analysts say such a move is unlikely given the huge diplomatic reward Rabat obtained from then US president Donald Trump in return for signing the deal.

Trump gave US recognition to Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony whose status has been disputed with the pro-independence Polisario Front for decades.

“Morocco is in a very delicate situation,” Abouddahab said.

On the one hand, there was “a profound desire to maintain a win-win relationship” with Israel and, on the other, “the pressure of the street”.

Abouddahab said Morocco was unlikely to order the closure of the Israeli liaison as it did following the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising more than two decades ago.

Morocco “will maintain the relationship but slow down the pace of meetings and visits,” he said.

Morocco-Israel relations specialist, Jamal Amiar, said public support for the normalisation deal inside Morocco was decreasing.

It stood at just 31 percent last year, according to a poll published by Arab Barometer, and is likely to have fallen much lower since the Israel-Hamas war erupted last month, Amiar said.

But he said he expected the government to stand by the agreement regardless, because the alternative was a “diplomatic mess” with the United States and the potential loss of the “huge prize” it had secured in Western Sahara.

Source: Macaubusiness