Israel and Morocco agreed on Thursday to normalise relations in a deal brokered with U.S. help, making Morocco the fourth Arab country to set aside hostilities with Israel in the past four months.
It joins the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in beginning to forge deals with Israel, driven in part by U.S.-led efforts to present a united front against Iran and roll back Tehran’s regional influence.
In a departure from longstanding U.S. policy, President Donald Trump agreed as part of the deal to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara, a desert region where a decades-old territorial dispute has pitted Morocco against the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, a breakaway movement that seeks to establish an independent state.
President-elect Joe Biden, due to succeed Trump on Jan. 20, will face a decision whether to accept the U.S. deal on the Western Sahara, which no other Western nation has done. A Biden spokesman declined to comment.
While Biden is expected to move U.S. foreign policy away from Trump’s “America First” posture, the Democrat has indicated he will continue the pursuit of what Trump calls “the Abraham Accords” between Israel and Arab and Muslim nations.
Trump sealed the Israel-Morocco accord in a phone call with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI on Thursday, the White House said.
“Another HISTORIC breakthrough today! Our two GREAT friends Israel and the Kingdom of Morocco have agreed to full diplomatic relations – a massive breakthrough for peace in the Middle East!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Mohammed told Trump that Morocco intends to facilitate direct flights for Israeli tourists to and from Morocco, according to a statement from Morocco’s royal court.
“This will be a very warm peace. Peace has never – the light of peace on this Hanukkah day has never – shone brighter than today in the Middle East,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement, referring to a Jewish eight-day holiday starting on Thursday night.
Palestinians have been critical of the normalization deals, saying Arab countries have set back the cause of peace by abandoning a longstanding demand that Israel give up land for a Palestinian state before it can receive recognition.
Egypt and UAE issued statements welcoming Morocco’s decision. Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979.