On Thursday, Morocco became the fourth Arab country since August after the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Bahrain to normalize ties with Israel via a US-brokered deal. The deal has elicited mixed global reactions.
As a part of the agreement, the United States agreed to recognize Morocco’s dominion over the Western Sahara – a site of a controversial dispute between Morocco and the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, a separatist movement that seeks to establish an independent country in that territory.
The White House said that Trump and Morocco’s King Muhammad VI agreed that Rabat would “resume diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel and expand economic and cultural cooperation to advance regional stability.”
“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 tweeted.
Addressing the recognition of Morocco’s claim over the Western Sahara, Trump reasoned that Morocco had been the first country to accept the United States as an independent nation after it had secured its independence from the British in 1776.
“It is thus fitting we recognize their sovereignty over the Western Sahara,” he said.
Trump said that Israel and Morocco will establish other ties, including the opening of diplomatic offices and embassies in both Tel Aviv and Rabat, and joint overflight rights for the two nations’ airlines.
The Israel-Morocco deal adds to Donald Trump’s Mideast legacy of brokering four deals between the Arab countries and Israel in just four months. The President-elect Joe Biden is set to assume the presidency in January and intends to revamp the US policies in the Middle East, particularly regarding the Palestinians and their demand for statehood.
The agreement builds on Trump’s major foreign policy accomplishments, winning recognition from both Israel and the Arab world. The US recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara is a major achievement for Rabat, as the claim is not recognized by the United Nations and has been a subject of international dispute for decades.
The Morocco-Israel deal is another setback for the Palestinians, who are critical of the normalization agreements and have repeatedly complained of biased, pro-Israeli actions from Donald Trump in the Middle East. Sidelining the Palestinian authority, Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, move the US embassy from Tel Aviv and slashed the assistance for the Palestinians.
Bassam al-Salhi, member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee condemned the Morocco-Israel deal. “Any Arab retreat from the  Arab Peace Initiative, which stipulates that normalisation comes only after Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands, is unacceptable and increases Israel’s belligerence and its denial of the Palestinian people’s rights”, he said.
Hazem Qassem, the Hamas spokesperson in Gaza, also condemned the deal, saying: “This is a sin and it doesn’t serve the Palestinian people. The Israeli occupation uses every new normalisation to increase its aggression against the Palestinian people and increase its settlement expansion.”
The Polisario Front – Morocco’s contender over the dominion of Western Sahara – condemned “in the strongest terms” what they called Trump’s attempt to handover to Morocco “that which does not belong to him.”
“Trump’s decision does not change the legal nature of the Sahara issue because the international community does not recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara”, they said in a statement.
The Polisario, made of local Sahrawi people, fought a war of independence with Morocco from 1975 to 1991. They, like the Palestinians, seek the right of self-determination and enjoy considerable support from Algeria, which has absorbed thousands of Sahrawi immigrants over the years.
Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, an adviser to Iran’s parliamentary speakers, said that the Israel-Morocco deal is a “betrayal” and stab in the back of Palestine. Iran was also critical of Bahrain and UAE for their normalization of relations with Israel, calling it a shameful move.
The Egyptian President Abdel Fateh el-Sisi, whose country has been in a peace deal with Israel since 1979, welcomed the deal and hailed as an “important step towards more stability and regional cooperation” in the Middle East.
Oman also came out in the support of the deal. Its foreign ministry said that the Gulf state hoped that the move will strengthen efforts towards lasting peace in the Middle East.
Following the announcement, the United Nations said that its stance was “unchanged” on the disputed Western Sahara region. According to a spokesperson, the UN Secretary-General believes that “the solution to the question can still be found based on Security Council resolutions.”
The UN chief requested the involved parties to avoid any action that could aggravate the already tense situation in the disputed region.