Israel Recognizes Morocco’s Illegal Occupation of Western Sahara
Orinoco Tribune, July 19, 2023 —
Israel has recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over the occupied territory of Western Sahara and is considering opening a consulate there, Reuters has reported. The move follows Washington’s recognition of Morocco’s claim, which laid the groundwork for Israel and Morocco to normalize relations in 2020.
In response, a senior Moroccan government official told the Spanish news agency EFE that Rabat is “in the process” of establishing an official embassy in Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed Israel’s position in a letter to Moroccan King Mohammed VI.
Morocco considers Western Sahara its territory. However, the Polisario Front, which is the Sahrawi nationalist liberation movement and the UN-recognized representative of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, wants an independent state.
In 2020, then-US President Donald Trump recognized Morocco’s claim to the territory in return for Morocco’s resumption of diplomatic ties with Israel in an agreement known as the “Abraham Accords.”
The Israeli recognition of Morocco’s claim “will be sent to the United Nations, regional and international organizations,” according to Netanyahu’s letter.
In addition to the US and Israel, Spain recognizes Rabat’s claim to the Western Sahara. However, Morocco’s presence in the territory is considered an illegal occupation under international law due to a 1975 ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Hague.
Western Sahara, a territory on the northwest coast of Africa bordered by Morocco, Mauritania, and Algeria, was a Spanish colony until 1976. With Spain’s withdrawal, Morocco claimed the territory and invaded, while the Polisario Front, which enjoyed Algerian support, resisted Moroccan forces and demanded independence.
A 1991 ceasefire agreement saw Morocco control 80% of Western Sahara, with the rest being held by the Polisario Front.
Since then, the UN has promoted the establishment of an UN-administered transitional period followed by a referendum to determine the territory’s final status. However, no referendum has been held due to Morocoo’s non-compliance. Fighting between the Polisario Front and Morocco broke out again in 2020.
Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen said Netanyahu’s announcement would “strengthen the relations between the countries and between the peoples and the continuation of cooperation to deepen regional peace and stability.”
Al-Monitor notes that Israel’s recognition breaks with its traditional policy regarding territorial disputes. Since Israel illegally occupies Palestinian land in the West Bank and Syrian land in the Golan Heights, Tel Aviv has avoided taking positions on territorial disputes in other parts of the world.
A senior Moroccan government official told Reuters that Israeli recognition would not affect Morocco’s “principles” in defending the “two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Earlier this month, Cohen said that Tel Aviv’s recognition of Rabat’s sovereignty over Western Sahara would be announced at the controversial Negev Forum. This was considered to be a way to pressure Morocco into hosting the summit.
Morocco postponed its plans to host the second edition of the Negev Forum last month over continued human rights abuses by Israel against Palestinians. Morocco canceled an earlier meeting of the summit in February for similar reasons.
At the start of the year, Arabic media reported that Morocco would not commit to a full opening of its embassy in Tel Aviv until Israel met its demands on Western Sahara.