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Israel pressed US to 'recognise occupation of Western Sahara' for Morocco normalisation deal Open in fullscreen

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Israel pressed US to 'recognise occupation of Western Sahara' for Morocco normalisation deal

Israel and Morocco have no official diplomatic relations but share close intelligence ties. [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 February, 2020

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Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab nations to have signed peace treaties with Israel but Morocco, along with some Gulf states, has been relaxing the Arab world's decades-old boycott.

Israel has reportedly been discussing a deal which would see the United States recognise Moroccan sovereignty in the occupied Western Sahara in return for normalised ties with Morocco.

While Israel and Morocco have no official diplomatic relations, they share close intelligence ties.

Both countries began to draw gradually closer in 2018 after a back channel was established between Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, with the help of French businessman Yariv Elbaz, who is of Moroccan-Jewish origin, Axios reported.

The discreet back channel was created without the knowledge of Mossad director Yossi Cohen - responsible for secret Israeli diplomacy in the Arab world - who was reportedly furious when the revelations emerged.

Ben-Shabbat reportedly wanted to use Israel’s close relations with the Trump administration as leverage in reaching a breakthrough in closer ties with Morocco, Israeli media reported.

Read more: Is Israel normalising ties with Morocco?

The senior adviser approached Trump officials and proposed US support for Morocco on sensitive issues, including the occupation of Western Sahara, according to Axios.

Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975 and fought the Polisario Front until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991. This set up a peacekeeping mission to monitor the area and facilitate a referendum on Western Sahara's future, which has never taken place.

Netanyahu had tried to push the deal before the 2019 election but it was dropped when details of Ben-Shabbat's visit to Morocco were leaked to the Arab press.

Over the past year, Netanyahu has made overtures to Washington over the deal, Israeli media reported, but former national security adviser John Bolton was strongly opposed.

The deal was once again raised after Bolton's departure in September and came up before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit to Rabat in November.

At the time, Israeli media had quoted senior officials saying that Israel was hoping to upgrade diplomatic ties during the visit before the expiration of a new period to form a government.

Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab nations to have signed peace treaties with Israel but Morocco - along with some Gulf states such as Bahrain - has been more relaxed over the decades-old Arab world boycott of Tel Aviv.

Morocco has unofficially welcomed Israeli investors and tourists. Some 3,000 Jews live in Morocco, a fraction of the number from before the 1948 creation of Israel but still make up the largest community in the Arab world.

Various Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Oman, have upscaled their normalisation with Israel in recent months.

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