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Morocco: Normalization With Israel Hampered by the War in Gaza

Trade between Morocco and Israel flourished thanks to the normalization of their relations three years ago, but the war in Gaza and the support of the Moroccan population for the Palestinian cause have cut this momentum, analysts believe.

Defense, agriculture, new technologies, tourism: bilateral cooperation accelerated in the wake of the normalization agreement , signed in December 2020 and in return for which Morocco received American and then Israeli recognition of its sovereignty over the disputed territory. of Western Sahara .

But since October 7 and the bloody attack by Hamas on Israeli soil, a prelude to a new war in the Gaza Strip controlled by the Islamist movement, air links between Israel and Morocco have been suspended, Israeli tourists have vanished like investors.

“From one day to the next, there was no one there. The Israelis who were there ran away, they were very afraid” , relates Michel Cohen, Franco-Israeli investor, owner of a kosher restaurant in Marrakech which closed, like 11 others out of the 14 which opened in the wake of normalization.

At the same time, pro-Palestinian demonstrations, which had always been a vector of mobilization but had run out of steam over the last three years, have regained momentum, giving rise to calls for a break in relations between Morocco and Israel.

Faced with images of Gaza being relentlessly bombed, “(Moroccan) civil society expresses its discontent and Rabat had to take this popular demand into account” , notes Zakaria Abouddahab, professor of international relations at Mohammed V University.

Since October 7, Rabat’s tone has evolved: first expressing its “deep concern” and condemning any attack against civilians, the kingdom ended up denouncing, on November 11 during an Arab-Islamic summit in Riyadh, “Israel’s persistence in its blatant aggression against unarmed civilians”. Without ever condemning the Hamas attack itself.

In Gaza, more than 14,500 people were killed in Israeli strikes in retaliation for the Hamas attack, the deadliest in Israel since the creation of the state in 1948, leaving 1,200 dead, according to the local authorities.

“Morocco today is in a very delicate situation” , with on the one hand “a deep desire to maintain a win-win relationship” and “pressure from the street” on the other, analyzes Mr Abouddahab.

In October, the evacuation of the Israeli liaison office in Rabat for security reasons, reported by Moroccan media, recalled the breakdown in relations in 2000, against the backdrop of the second Intifada (Palestinian uprising ).

Rabat then denounced “Israeli violence”, causing the closure of the Israeli office. However, according to analysts, this scenario is unlikely today. “We will maintain the relationship but slow down the pace of meetings and visits,” said Mr. Abouddahab to AFP.

It is difficult in this context to imagine the kingdom welcoming high-level Israeli officials and even less so Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself, whose visit was anticipated by the end of the year.

According to Jamal Amiar, author of “Morocco, Israel and Moroccan Jews” , the military, security and economic ties established since 2020 are too strong to be broken even if support for normalization – which was already than 31% last year according to a survey by the Arab Barometer network – has fallen further.

A break would also create “diplomatic disorder”, particularly with the American administration, he said, recalling that support on the question of Western Sahara was in the eyes of Rabat a “huge counterpart” to normalization.

Mr. Amiar recommends that the kingdom make its delicate position “an asset” to “play a more dynamic role” in mediation efforts, banking on its links with Israel, Arab countries but also the large Jewish community in Morocco, which makes it a unique country in the Arab world.

Estimated at 3,000 people, Moroccan Jews remain the main Jewish community in North Africa, while some 700,000 Israelis are of Moroccan ancestry and have maintained strong ties to their country of origin.

“The fundamentals of the Moroccan-Israeli relationship are strong, they have roots,” Mr. Amiar told AFP.

In Morocco, there is a “real” coexistence between Muslims and Jews, assures Jacky Kadoch, representative of the Jewish community of Marrakech, who wants to believe in a return to normal, because despite the repetitive crises, ” the umbilical cord does not heal. “is never cut between the two countries”.

Source: Africa News