Morocco became the fourth Arab country to normalize relations with Israel without linking the move to progress regarding Palestine. In fact, the agreement had nothing to do with Morocco’s so-called commitment to securing Palestinian human, civil, and national rights or with the Arab-Israeli conflict. All the agreement does is codify and make public old economic, cultural, and military ties between the two countries that had never engaged in hostile activities against each other. Importantly, it gives outgoing President Donald Trump a parting gift that may soothe his ego as he fails to overturn the result of the November 3rd presidential election and is obligated to vacate the White House on January 20, 2021.
There should be no doubt that Morocco’s decision to join the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan in normalizing relations with Israel is another abandonment of the Palestinians as they fight to preserve their rights in the face of Israel’s policy of military occupation and de facto apartheid. Like the decisions of the other states, this one represents another nail in the coffin of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative that remains the official position and commitment of the Arab world regarding relations with and recognition of Israel. It now behooves the League of Arab States, the ultimate custodian of the initiative, to call for a public emergency summit of Arab states to once and for all tear up and incinerate the document in a ceremony that would be covered by the international media, thus letting the world know that Arab rulers no longer want to be bothered by the pesky Palestinian cause and that they have abdicated their pursuit of justice for Palestine.
What is just as profound as the abandonment of the Palestinians is the overall atmosphere in the Arab world surrounding this headlong rush to normalize with Israel, as Trump is practically packing his bags. It is not that his successor, President-elect Joe Biden, is going to object to normalization between Arab states and Israel. Far from it: he is likely to encourage the moves because he, like the wider political class in the United States, is committed to Israel’s security and wellbeing and would never make Arab normalization with Israel contingent on a just resolution of the question of Palestine.
This Arab rush to normalize with Israel and penchant to do it while Trump is still in office shows disturbing signs of serious decay in the Arab world’s political status quo.
This Arab rush to normalize with Israel and penchant to do it while Trump is still in office shows disturbing signs of serious decay in the Arab world’s political status quo. The public handwashing of anything related to the rights of Palestinians speaks of a lack of moral commitment to justice and fairness. In addition to the UAE’s erroneous contention that normalizing with Israel will blunt the latter’s plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, the Bahraini, Sudanese, and Moroccan normalization agreements have no conditions on Israel to satisfy Palestine-related demands. Of course, the platitudes are still there—that the agreements do not mean that the normalizers have abandoned their support for Palestinian rights. In fact, after the announcement on Moroccan-Israeli normalization, King Mohammed VI called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to affirm his country’s strong commitment to the Palestinians. But the reality remains that normalization with Israel is nothing but an acceptance of it as a power that occupies Palestinian land.
There is a sense that Arab states are happy to accept the American president’s disregard for international law. The four states’ normalizing of relations with Israel came after President Trump “granted” his recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights––another country’s territory!––in contravention of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 stipulating Israeli withdrawal from the area. In fact, the UAE is making plans to import wine produced in Golan vineyards. Hamad Buamim, president and CEO of Dubai’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the UAE has no qualms about importing Israeli products from the occupied West Bank––i.e., from Israeli settlements––and justified the policy as helping Palestinians who work there. Trump also recognized Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem and accepted it as Israel’s capital, also in violation of international law that recognizes the city as one of the final status issues to be resolved in a comprehensive peace settlement.
It is indeed hard to see how the UAE could demand that Iran withdraw from the three occupied Emirati islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs in the Arabian Gulf while it normalizes with Israel, the power that occupies the Golan Heights, Jerusalem, and the West Bank and lays siege to the Gaza Strip. Moreover, one wonders how all four states––the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco––would vote if the UN General Assembly were to sanction Russia over its occupation and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.
Morocco’s Apparent Blindness
Equally strange is Morocco’s acceptance of Trump’s granting it sovereignty over the Western Sahara––another territory over which he has no jurisdiction––in exchange for normalization with Israel. That Morocco thinks it can get away with this unlawful recognition is folly. The fate of the Western Sahara rests with the Sahrawi people, not with the American president. United Nations Security Council Resolution 690 of 1991 created the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to conduct a popular vote on the future of the territory. That vote is yet to be conducted because of differences in how to ask the referendum question. Why would Rabat accept an illegal gift from a departing president, especially if it does not absolve Morocco of its responsibility to abide by international law and conduct that vote? Could it be that the incentive of $3 billion in investment in ventures that benefit the Moroccan king was too good to be ignored?
The fate of the Western Sahara rests with the Sahrawi people, not with the American president.
Furthermore, there is now an increased possibility that extending Morocco’s sovereignty to the Western Sahara with the help of a soon-to-be former president may continue the state of animosity and conflict with both the Polisario Front, which claims the Western Sahara, and Algeria, the front’s longtime sponsor and supporter. Indeed, the false premise that Morocco now has sovereignty over the Western Sahara may escalate tensions to a state of war that increases instability in Northwest Africa. This begs the question as to why Morocco would want to perpetuate this state of unease and tension, and incite further hostility, to satisfy President Trump’s wishes. The answer could very well be that the Moroccan government wants to secure some sort of an American acknowledgement of its sovereignty over the Sahara, its pseudo-legality notwithstanding, because it is afraid that a Biden Administration would want to adhere to international law and to MINURSO’s eventual mission in holding a referendum on the fate of the territory.
No one knows whether Morocco will be the last to normalize with Israel, during President Trump’s last days in office or afterward. But as in the case of the other normalizers––and Egypt and Jordan, the original signers of peace treaties with Israel––Morocco’s latest move will not help advance Palestinian rights or regional peace so long as there is no just resolution to the Middle East’s oldest conflict. What it does show is that the Arab political order, for all intents and purposes, has collapsed in a heap of states whose leaders are more interested in immediate gratification and personal gain from an outgoing president than in the principles of justice and international law.
*Photo Credit: Agence Marocaine de Presse