Israel recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in unprecedented move


Israel has officially recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over the long-disputed Western Sahara region. The royal office in Rabat made the announcement on Monday, revealing that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had conveyed the decision in a letter to Morocco’s King Mohammed VI.

The letter explicitly stated Israel’s recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the mineral-rich desert territory. Moreover, Netanyahu expressed Israel’s intention to explore the establishment of a consulate in the town of Dakhla, situated within the Moroccan-controlled part of Western Sahara. This move has been a longstanding demand from Rabat.

Upon contact, Israeli officials confirmed the contents of the Moroccan statement. Foreign Minister Eli Cohen emphasized that this decision would foster stronger ties and cooperation between the two nations, ultimately contributing to peace and stability in the region.

The Western Sahara dispute traces its roots back to 1975 when Spain withdrew as the colonial power, resulting in a 15-year conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front seeking independence for the region. Presently, Rabat exercises control over nearly 80 percent of Western Sahara and regards the entire area, known for its abundant phosphates and fisheries, as its sovereign territory. While Morocco advocates for limited autonomy, the Algeria-backed Polisario Front seeks full independence and has called for a UN-supervised referendum on self-determination, which has yet to occur.

Since late 2020, the Polisario Front claims to have been engaged in a “war of legitimate defense” and has declared the entire Western Sahara, including its land, sea, and airspace, as a “war zone.”

It is worth noting that the visit of Amir Ohana, the Speaker of the Israeli Parliament, to Rabat in June signaled the potential for recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. Ohana stated that discussions on the matter were underway and that Netanyahu would announce his decision in the near future.

The royal office’s statement mentioned that Israel’s decision would be communicated to the United Nations, international organizations, and all countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations. Additionally, Israel’s military chief of staff announced the appointment of the country’s first military attaché to Morocco, further solidifying the growing ties between the two nations.

Morocco and Israel established diplomatic normalization in December 2020, following the Abraham Accords—a series of US-brokered agreements with Arab states. As part of this normalization, the United States recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.

Since then, security, trade, and tourism cooperation between Israel and Morocco have flourished. However, some segments of the Moroccan public remain cautious about closer ties due to the presence of ultra-nationalists within Israel’s government, who harbor opposition to further negotiations with the Palestinians.

A senior Moroccan official, speaking anonymously, stressed that strengthening relations with Israel would not compromise their support for the Palestinian people and their legitimate rights.

Israel’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara comes during a period of heightened rivalry between Morocco and Algeria, following the severance of diplomatic relations between the two neighboring North African countries.

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