Breakthrough in the Middle East: Morocco and Israel agree to diplomatic relations

An historic deal to wrap up an otherwise hectic year in international relations for the Trump administration

Lauren Noble, Assistant Editor, News

Morocco is the latest Arab League country to acknowledge and agree to diplomatic relations with Israel in a peace deal brokered with the help of the United States, as announced by President Donald Trump on December 10, 2020.

In an overturn of generational hostilities against Israel over the Palestinian conflict, Morocco accompanies Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan towards stabilizing tensions in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

Described as “historic” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the deal involved US recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara Territory in return for Morocco’s establishment of formal ties with Israel. Agreed upon by Trump and Netanyahu, Morocco will “resume diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel and expand economic and cultural co-operation to advance regional stability,” according to the White House press release.

Trump tweets in excitement of the deal: “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!”

However, some foresee the US recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara Territory to exacerbate tensions and possible conflict. A three-way conflict over the territory endured for sixteen years between Moroccan troops, the Polisario Front and Mauritanian forces. Upon withdrawal of Mauritanian troops from the territory in August of 1979, Morocco quickly advanced. As Polisario, a Sahrawi national rebel group, pursues ending Moroccan presence in the Western Sahara, Moroccan troops remain unmoving. 

The sixteen year-long conflict ended in a ceasefire between Morocco and Polisario in 1991, ensuring an independence referendum to allow the local population an option between independence or integration with Morocco. This referendum has been stalled and is yet to take place. Ensuing Trump’s recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty, Polisario claimed they would continue fighting until Moroccan troops are forced to withdraw. The US recognition would additionally provoke Algeria, a substantial backer of Polisario, as well as Russia, who claims it to be “a violation of international law.”

Trump’s backing of Morocco’s sovereignty claim diminished hope of those who have aspired for independence for decades. Without the implementation of a referendum, the fight over the Western Sahara Territory will remain between Morocco and the Polisario Front essentially comes down to international support and recognition. 

Normalizing peace between Israel, Morocco and other Arab League countries is assumed to stabilize tensions in the Middle East. Although, it will supposedly heighten conflict pertaining to the Western Sahara Territory due to Morocco’s demand for recognition of sovereignty in return. 

Future approach pertaining to the deal with Morocco is undecided as President-Elect Joe Biden is to take office in January of 2021. The US Constitution grants the president nearly complete authority over foreign policy and state recognition, and therefore has the power to reverse Trump’s recognition if he wishes to do so.