How President Trump’s major Morocco-Israel diplomatic deal blindsided the black hats

Special to

by John J. Metzler

In another stunning breakthrough for Middle East peace, the Kingdom of Morocco has recognized Israel.

The latest diplomatic deal was orchestrated in the waning weeks of the Trump Administration’s first term, but built upon September’s surprising Abraham Accords where three other Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan put long standing political enmity aside and recognized the state of Israel.

But contrary to U.S. diplomacy with many other regional states, Donald’s Trump’s road to  Morocco is based on deeper shared history, friendships and interests.

King Mohammed VI’s declaration on normalization of ties with Israel has ‘had the impact of a Tsunami’.

As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo underscored, “In 1777, Morocco was the first country to grant diplomatic recognition to the United States of America.  That same year, Morocco opened its ports to the ships of the new American republic, allowing us to engage in trade and commerce and supporting our fight for freedom.  Our friendship has endured.”

Few people are aware that the port of Tangier hosts the oldest American diplomatic property in the world, and the only U.S. National Historic Landmark located outside the United States, the Tangier American Legation.

Washington maintained historically good ties with Morocco which were leveraged to complete one of the last pieces of the peace puzzle, Saudi Arabia notwithstanding.  But as importantly and largely overlooked in the media, the United States has equally recognized Morocco’s disputed claims to the Western Sahara, a huge desolate territory, which remains in political limbo awaiting a long-sought UN referendum.

Since 1991 the UN has maintained the MINURSO peacekeeping mission in the arid region to administer a future referendum on its status.

The U.S. decided to open a Consulate in the southern Atlantic port of Dakhla, which is deep inside Western Sahara, as a vote of confidence to regional development.  Significantly, the USA maintains a Free Trade agreement with Morocco, the only such agreement in Africa.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita hailed U.S. recognition of Western Sahara’s “Moroccan identity” as a “historic diplomatic breakthrough.”

King Mohammed VI’s declaration on normalization of ties with Israel has “had the impact of a Tsunami” says the head of the Council of Jewish Communities in Morocco, was quoted in the Israel Hayom newspaper.

Indeed, even skeptics of the Mid-East peace process are surprisingly amazed by the speed of the American diplomatic breakthroughs in a region market by mistrust and static policy positions.

The Trump team was able to offer a number of business incentives, political support on the long-frozen Western Sahara dispute, to assuage the skepticism of many Moroccan politicians towards improved links with Israel which in effect further checkmates the Palestinians.

Morocco, Israel and the U.S. have long shared discreet security and intelligence cooperation.

A former French protectorate, Morocco has been long hailed as a moderate Moslem country in North Africa’s Maghreb, contrary to places such as neighboring Algeria. Typically, political   rapprochement between Rabat and Paris works smoothly so we may assume that Washington’s bold initiative was hardly a surprise to the French.

While Morocco is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, the country hosts a small but ancient Jewish community numbering 4,000.   Back during French rule, the numbers stood near 250,000.

Almost one million Israelis are of Moroccan descent. Morocco’s constitution states, “the country is a Muslim state … Religions other than Islam and Judaism are not recognized by the constitution or laws,” according to the State Department’s Report on International Religious Freedom.

Morocco’s tiny Christian community is, however, free to practice.

Noted French geopolitical expert Michel Gurfinkiel asserts, “The Abraham Accords pave the way, to a Muslim-Jewish-Christian coexistence pact which would guarantee the safety of the Christian communities in the Middle East and help the European countries to manage their own Muslim communities. It is essentially an anti-jihad, anti-Iran and anti-Turkey move that fits with France’s and Europe’s vital interests.”

The leftist nationalist Polisario movement, heavily supported by Algeria, has long opposed the Sahara’s incorporation into the Moroccan Kingdom; the Polisario runs bases and camps for tens of thousands of displaced militants and Sahrawi refugees.  The largely exile Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, proclaimed in 1976, claims the resource-rich region which was once under Spanish rule.

President Trump’s move caught Algeria off balance. It equally blindsided the Palestinian Authority who naturally sees the move as a grand sellout by Arab Morocco.  Moreover Russia decried the landmark deal as illegal.

Morocco’s new relationship with Israel underscores the fruits of quiet diplomacy.Equally, Donald Trump has revitalized American ties to strategic Morocco and has significantly upgraded the American presence in this pivotal North African land.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]