Israel should recognize Moroccan sovereignty in Western Sahara, in return for Morocco opening an embassy in Jerusalem.
Morocco is the heir to many hundreds of years of civilization and cultural history. Modern Morocco is a peaceful and hospitable country, a nation that respects individual and collective liberties. It is a constitutional monarchy with a multi-party system. It supports economic liberalism and encourages policies of regionalism and decentralization. Morocco is much more than baffling bazaars and brilliant beaches.
Morocco is also a friend of the West in many ways but it fails to get the credit it deserves. This surprises me but it may be related to the fact that this country is on the right path toward peace and prosperity. When a country obtains peace through trade and prosperity and has no serious troubles, and incomes and livelihoods are growing, you gain too little attention from the outside world.
This is obviously a question and dilemma that concerns the Moroccans.
Back in 2021, when I was chairman of the Danish Parliament's Defense Committee, Moroccan Ambassador to Denmark Khadija Rouissi invited me for tea at the embassy, asking me frankly: "We are friends and allies with the West. Why doesn't Morocco get credit for everything we do? Why do you ignore our progress?" Rouissi, one could argue, in her background, in many ways, is a window to modern Morocco, a beacon of progress in the Arab world.
She began as a well-educated liberal, was involved in the field of human rights and was imprisoned under the country's former king, where she suffered torture.
Eight days after the death of King Hassan II on July 23, 1999, Mohammed VI affirmed a commitment to establish the rule of law and to safeguard human rights in his first throne speech. Khadija Rouissi was released from prison and for many years, she acted as the secretary-general of the Committee for the Families of the Disappeared, before being elected as a member of the House of Representatives of Morocco, in 2011. Her mother was a Moroccan Jew and her father was of Amazigh origin.
UNFORTUNATELY, I was unable to form a proper answer to Ambassador Rouissi's relevant question.
Other Arab countries flirt with communist China, President Vladimir Putin's Russia, and Iran, in particular, and remain a state sponsor of terrorism. Morocco, on the other hand, seems to be determined to be on a path towards Western-style prosperity and deserves recognition as a good friend and ally.
The ambassador was puzzled why only a few in the Western world have awarded Morocco greater credit for the Abraham Accords.
In my view, the Abraham Accords are historic agreements and completely on par with the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty signed in 1979 and the Oslo Accords signed in 1993.
After decades of a standoff in Arab-Israeli relations, the United States-brokered Abraham Accords represented a new vision of normalization in the Middle East through security, trade and prosperity that most didn't think was possible to achieve. Over the course of just four months, from August to December 2020, four nations – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and, later also Sudan – initiated diplomatic processes to normalize bilateral ties with Israel.
With rising oil prices amid Russia's war on Ukraine, the Abraham Accords also serve to mend the strained relations with Saudi Arabia and in the process, push further toward Saudi-Israeli normalization.
According to one of the main architects behind the agreement, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, the agreements aimed at having wide-reaching economic impacts not only for the Middle East and North Africa but beyond. These accords no doubt represent a major political breakthrough but do not, for several reasons, gain wide enough attention they deserve in the media and politically outside the Middle East. Their potential remains significant, adding new jobs, trade volume moving up, more than 55 trade agreements signed between Israel and the UAE, Morocco and Bahrain, and several diplomatic and economic missions opened.
Part of the agreement was that Morocco would have its sovereignty over Western Sahara recognized. Western Sahara is a territory which both Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front have fought over since 1975, when Spain withdrew from the territory.
Since independence, there have been many discussions about the control of Western Sahara, and the dispute illustrates the most present security challenge that Morocco faces. Morocco has already committed itself to a referendum in Western Sahara and opened up to some form of autonomy. This move has helped clear the way for numerous countries, including Abraham Accords members, to recognize Morocco's claims. Israel, however, still hasn't.
As Ilan Berman, senior vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, has argued, this recognition is critical to further strengthening the Abraham Accords, consolidating connections among the existing members and finding new members. The new government's view on Western Sahara is, according to Berman, shaping up to be a significant test of how ties will evolve in the future.
INSTEAD OF using Israel's recognition of Western Sahara as a reason not to open a full embassy in Jerusalem, Morocco should rather show leadership and establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. This would make it much easier for the new Israeli government to recognize Moroccan control over the Western Sahara region.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government is for now mostly known for being the most nationalist government in Israel's history but, as Berman also puts it, most tend to forget that Netanyahu was also prime minister when the Abraham Accords were brokered and he has an interest in shaping it as his most important foreign policy accomplishment to date.
Had I met with the Ambassador today, I would have argued that if Morocco would establish full diplomatic relations and resume all official contacts with Israel, Netanyahu would have a much better argument in recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara.
The move would solidify the Abraham Accords, recognize the progress made in the region among the Abraham Accords countries and remove any questions and uncertainties about the Abraham agreement's longevity, and whether over time it can be expanded and offer hope for a very different Middle East.
Morocco is, overall, a well-functioning country, both in terms of safety and its economy. It is not democratic in the Western sense but nevertheless enjoys political stability. During my recent visit, I had a meeting with a human rights organization, which stated that there is continuous progress in several areas. All in all, there is a positive development, including in the economy.
It is this economic stability that has led to Western investments. For example, Renault cars are assembled in Morocco. The Danish company Maersk operates a large port in the country. Siemens builds wind turbines and energy is produced from solar cells.
Demographic developments are also a challenge in this part of the world. In North Africa, two-thirds of the population are under 30 and if emigration is to be stemmed, there must be conditions created that make them stay. Morocco understands this.
Morocco is also well-aware that despite enrolling almost every Moroccan child in elementary school, just one-third reach the minimum proficiency level in reading by the time they leave.
These are the challenges that Morocco faces. Israel can be part of the solution because there is much the two countries can do together. Each should recognize what the other needs for development, prosperity and security, and how they can each contribute for stability in the region.
Then, I am sure, they will receive their richly deserved credit from the international community.
Naser Khader, a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow, is a Danish politician of Syrian-Palestinian origin, an academic and author, and an opponent of Islamism. A member of the Danish parliament from 2001-2011 and 2015-2022, he chaired its Defense Committee from 2016-21.