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View from Morocco

Op-ed: Palestinian issue sticks out as obstacle on path to relations between Israel, Morocco

Published: 01.09.13, 10:23 / Israel Opinion

RABAT – "Maybe it would be better if you enter with your European passport. You know, just in case," I was advised by knowledgeable people as I was making my way to Morocco. With the echoes of Operation Pillar of Defense still being heard in the background and as local newspapers are filled with hostile reports on killings in Gaza, perhaps I should proceed with caution. At the passport control line in Rabat's airport a small sense of fear creeps in. After all, I am here alone, in my European passport it is stated that it was issued in Tel Aviv, and in this world of Google it will take them a second to find out who I am, what I do and why I do it.

 

But the fears proved to be unfounded. The Moroccan foreign ministry, headed by Minister Saad-Eddine Al-Othmani of the Islamist Justice and Development Party, greeted all those who arrived to attend the conference organized by the German Körber Foundation (which works to create dialogue between senior political, social, diplomatic and media figures from across the world) very warmly and gave us all the royal treatment.

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A series of meetings with top political, financial and cultural figures, as well as numerous tours, left no room for doubt: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not occupy a prominent place in the local agenda; not at all.

 

Morocco was surprising in its openness. In contrast to Jordan for example, where just the mention of the possibility of overthrowing the Hashemite dynasty is considered a kind of heresy, here things were said openly and without fear. Various prominent figures asked, "What are the chances that the 'Arab Spring' will reach Morocco and bring about a regime change?"

 

For reasons that will surely be researched in the future, the kingdoms of the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the hereditary monarchies in the Persian Gulf) have managed to survive the "Arab Spring" much better than the totalitarian regimes that were not based on the rule of a monarch. Morocco's king, Mohammed VI, also faced a challenge. The masses took to the streets of Casablanca, Marrakech and Rabat to demand a change.

 

The king offered reforms to the constitution and won a decisive victory when they were approved in a referendum. The parliamentary elections of 2011 were held without the regime's intervention and significantly bolstered the Islamist party. The local press enjoys significant freedom and occasionally levels harsh criticism at the king.

 

The intelligence agencies and the army have succeeded in terminating most of the Global Jihad cells that had been operating in the country, and most of its security problems originate from neighboring countries and tribes in the northern Sahara that are recruited by al-Qaeda. On the other hand, despite the fact that Morocco boasts one of the strongest economies in North Africa and the Middle East, it suffers from a large foreign debt, a significant deficit and difficulties in attracting investors.

 

Israel has nothing to do with any of this. Actually, the Moroccan regime is currently trying to isolate the country and the nearby region from the rest of the Middle East. In Rabat people are speaking of several types of "Arab Springs" and stress the difference between the developments in Egypt or Syria and what needs to transpire in Morocco. Pan-Arab solidarity-out; North African circles of influence- in.

 

Against this backdrop, the Palestinian issue sticks out as an obstacle on the path to establishing relations between Israel and Morocco. Morocco has a history of extensive and mostly secret ties with Israel. Following the peace agreements with the Palestinians and Jordan, Israel and Morocco established official relations, which were cut off with the outbreak of the intifada in 2000.

 

"There are countless high-tech products I would like to import from Israel for tens of millions of dollars, because you are cheaper and better," an influential Moroccan businessman told me, "But as long as the drums of war between you and the Palestinians are not silenced, I will not do it." And he is not the only one.

 

Spokespeople for the Israeli Right repeatedly claim that the conflict with the Palestinians is merely an excuse for the continuation of the traditional hatred toward Israel, but a series of meetings with many senior Moroccan officials presents an entirely different picture.

 

The "Arab Spring" is really not connected to the Palestinian issue, but it is stuck at the core of every attempt to renew relations with Israel. The Israeli economy has such vast potential to do great business with countries in the region, and Morocco in particular. But this will happen only after real dialogue with the Palestinians is resumed.

 

 

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