Moroccan-Israeli Relations Are Strengthening, but Slowly

July 14, 2021 | Sarah Feuer
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Last week, Alon Ushpiz, the number-two in Israel’s foreign ministry, visited Morocco—the first major diplomatic visit since the two countries resumed normal relations last year. Just a month before, however, Ismail Haniyeh, the chairman of the Hamas politburo, also made an official visit to the country and dined with the king. Yet Sarah Feuer sees reason for optimism, especially now that the kingdom has reassurances that the Biden administration will continue the Trump-era policies that encouraged normalization:

On the day Haniyeh landed in Rabat, the king warmly congratulated Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on the formation of his government. Morocco has reportedly begun planning to upgrade its liaison office in Tel Aviv to an embassy, and on July 4 a Moroccan Air Force cargo plane landed at the Hatzor Air Base, reportedly to participate in a military exercise with the IDF. Seen in this context, Ushpiz’s visit, coming on the heels of a call between Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and his Moroccan counterpart, Nasser Bourita, injects additional momentum into the renewal of bilateral ties and offers an opportunity to begin translating a promising agreement on paper into more substantive policies in practice.

Where the normalization process goes from here will depend on both sides, but Israel can take steps to build upon Ushpiz’s visit and begin planting the seeds of a deeper, more sustainable bilateral relationship that can withstand external shocks such as the recent escalation in Gaza. The countries are reportedly set to launch direct flights, which will be a good start, but beyond encouraging tourism in both directions and more generally emphasizing the cultural links between the kingdom and Israeli Jews of Moroccan origin, Israel would do well to focus, quietly but methodically, on nurturing relations with Morocco’s business community.

For starters, the country is keen to gain access to Israeli technologies and investments, particularly those bearing on agriculture, which remains a dominant sector of the Moroccan economy. Likewise, a small but promising tech sector has emerged in the kingdom, where youth aged fifteen to twenty-four make up a third of the country’s population of 36 million and are keen to enter the global economy. As such, Jerusalem would do well to devise plans to demonstrate to this younger demographic sector that connecting to the Israeli high-tech ecosystem offers them one such entry point.

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