Middle East geo-politics: And Rabat is the Next Stop!

December 11, 2020 5:11 PM

Whatever one may say about Trump‘s style of diplomacy but it has to be granted that arguably he is pursuing his Middle East Policy to the hilt until the D-Day and leaving nothing to chance.

On September 15 when Abraham Accords were signed President Trump had mentioned that at least five other countries were ready to join in his efforts. (Photo source: AP)

By Ambassador Anil Trigunayat,

Whatever one may say about Trump‘s style of diplomacy but it has to be granted that arguably he is pursuing his Middle East Policy to the hilt until the D-Day and leaving nothing to chance. It is clearly seen in his efforts to enlarge and expand Tel Aviv‘s strategic friends’ circle while ensuring the pedestal of their own security in the region as the US focus shifts to the containment of China in the Indo-Pacific. Morocco has followed suit in the normalisation of relations with Israel following UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan. On September 15 when Abraham Accords were signed President Trump had mentioned that at least five other countries were ready to join in his efforts.

For several countries like Saudi Arabia, despite Neom meet earlier in the month, it is a bit more complicated as their overt relationship with Tel Aviv could impinge on their streets and cause a domestic stir. Moreover, their calculations and cost-benefit analysis at this time could hinge in favour of an implicit collaboration rather than an explicit endorsement. There must be some quid pro quo to justify a change instance. Besides some may want to leave it for the Biden Presidency to take credit for and serve their own chips with the new Administration. Hence efforts are on to call for an international conference on Palestine which is indeed a sticking point even if the appetite in the region is somewhat low. Egypt and Jordan are taking the initiative. It has been reported that Netanyahu might visit Cairo and a meeting with Abbas could possibly take place.

Morocco has had a problem in the western Sahara and their dispute with Algeria pivots around that in the North African scenario for decades now. Hence when on December 10, USA proclaimed Morocco’s sovereignty( Trump signed it on December 4) over the western Sahara territory it was a big achievement. The Proclamation was unequivocal and rests the case for the US in favour of Morocco as it states “ As of today, the United States recognises Moroccan sovereignty over the entire western Sahara territory and reaffirms its support for Morocco’s serious, credible and realistic autonomy proposal as the only basis for a just and lasting solution to the dispute over the Western Saharan territory. The US believes that an independent Sahrawi state is not a realistic option for resolving the conflict and that genuine autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty is the only feasible option.” Hence providing to the big impetus to the Moroccan claims. Whether this frozen conflict will eventually resolve remains to be seen but Morocco has a good reason to celebrate and in that comes its next endorsement of Trump’s efforts for achieving greater Arab-Israeli amity while maintaining support to the Palestinian cause.US has also agreed to open a consulate in Dakhla, a city in the heart of Sahara, aiming to enhance trade and investment into the region.

On December 10, HM King Mohammed VI, who like the King of Jordan is a direct descendent of Prophet Mohammed, in a telephonic conversation and referring to high-level contacts especially visits of Jared Kushner agreed to resume official contacts with counterparts and diplomatic relations with Israel as soon as possible; authorised direct flights for the Moroccan Jewish community and Israeli tourists; promote innovative relations in the economic and technological fields including working to reopen liaison offices in both countries as was the case previously until 2002. It may be recalled that a liaison office of Israel existed in Morocco during 1994-2002 hence its revival. Moreover, there are about 700,000 Jews of Moroccan origin who would be happy to visit their country of birth. In fact the late King Mohammed V, grandfather of the current King, is held in high esteem by the Jews for protecting them against the Nazis and Vichy French Government and who called himself as “commander of all believers and not only Muslims”. King also expressed his appreciation for the US and Kuwaiti efforts for reconciliation in the three years old Gulf dispute between Qatar and the Quartet for ensuring peace and stability in the region. He did reiterate the Moroccan commitment to the two-state solution to resolve the Palestinian crisis and as Chairman of the Al Quds committee of the OIC underpinned the special status of Jerusalem respect of freedom to practice religious rites of the three monotheistic Abrahamic religions.

King also spoke to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and briefed him about the developments while assuring him that position of Morocco in support of Palestine remains unchanged which he inherited from his father. He added that Morocco supports the two-state solution and that the negotiations between the Palestinians and Israeli parties are the only way to reach a final, lasting and comprehensive solution to the conflict. King assured that Morocco will take advantage of the of all arrangements and contacts agreed upon between him and President Trump to promote peace in the region and that this normalisation of relations with Tel Aviv in no way affects the unwavering and continuous commitment to the just Palestinian cause. He added that Palestine was as important to him as Sahara. This may have given some satisfaction to the Palestinians and the standard negative commentary and criticism might have been avoided although Hamas is another thing who decried it “a political sin that does not serve the Palestinian cause and encourages the occupation to continue to deny the rights of our people”.At the same time placing more hope in Biden Presidency even Palestinians are aspiring for an early International Conference while re-establishing their mechanisms like security cooperation and receiving the tax refund of over $ 1 bn from Israel. Pragmatism at this stage seems to be the key as Netanyahu also faces domestic political turbulence.

The criticism of Trump’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara is quite severe in certain quarters who believe that unlike his decisions on Jerusalem, which appear in direct contrast to what King stands for, or for that matter on Golan heights were in clear violation of UNSC Resolutions and International Law. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres believed “the solution to the question can still be found based on Security Council resolutions” The Polisario Front was acidic. The Polisario Front independence movement condemned, in the strongest terms, the fact that outgoing American President Donald Trump attributes to Morocco something which does not belong to the country, namely sovereignty over Western Sahara. Most critics attribute trumps such sudden diplomatic outbursts as the narcissistic desire to go down in the history for right or wrong reasons. Anyways for the time being Trump has done his bit when he tweeted, in characteristic style “Another HISTORIC breakthrough today! Our two GREAT friends Israel and the Kingdom of Morocco has agreed to full diplomatic relations – a massive breakthrough for peace in the Middle East!”. Peace is what the Middle East indeed needs.

(The author is former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta. Views are personal)

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