Israeli foreign minister goes to Morocco in ‘historic’ visit

The new economic Liaison Office is the first step to full diplomatic ties Morocco promised when re-establishing formal relations with Israel last year.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid started a two-day visit to Morocco Wednesday, the highest-ranking Israeli to do so since diplomatic ties were re-established last year after a two-decade hiatus.

Lapid will officially meet with his Moroccan counterpart, Nasser Bourita, and open the Israeli Liaison Office in the center of Rabat in the afternoon. Its main focus will be the development of economic ties, with the hope that an embassy will soon be able to take its place, as Morocco has committed to establishing full diplomatic relations in stages with the Jewish state.

“This is the time for political economic activity, and we will continue to work on agreements that will bring our countries innovation and opportunities,” Lapid said on Tuesday. Several cooperative agreements are expected to be signed between Rabat and Jerusalem during the visit.

Lapid will then travel to Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city, to meet with the biggest Jewish community in the country, some 1,000 strong.

There are only about 2,200 Jews left in the country, but they represent a community that has been in Morocco for two millenia, peaking at over a quarter of a million people in the 1950s. More importantly, those who left in several waves after Israeli gained independence in 1948, as well as their descendants, feel very strong ties to the country and have come in their tens of thousands each year to visit, bringing in significant tourism revenue.

Lapid referred to this emotional bond on Tuesday, saying, “This historic trip is a continuation of a longstanding friendship and deep connection of roots and tradition between the Jewish community in Morocco and the large Israeli-Moroccan community.”

Several representatives of that Israeli community are coming along with Lapid on the special direct flight, including singer Shimon Buskila, whose parents are Moroccan. He will perform in the Casablanca synagogue, and confessed to being “very excited” at the prospect of his first visit to the country.

Minister of Social Services Meir Cohen, who was born in Morocco and came to Israel at age six in 1961, is also in the group.

“There is tremendous importance to every Muslim country we come to,” he said. “Opening more and more channels to other Muslim countries that understand the reality of our region, understand the difficulties and begin to trade with us, is excellent and important.”

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Jerusalem and Rabat have had discrete ties for decades, both before establishing low-level relations after the Oslo Accords and after breaking them off again in 2000 after the start of the Second Intifada. The latest breakthrough came after the Trump administration offered the incentive of recognizing Moroccan sovereignty in Western Sahara.

Rabat has considered the territory an integral part of its country ever since Spain withdrew its colonial forces in the 1970s, but some 20% is controlled by the Polisario Front that has been seeking independence for the indigenous population since that time as well.

The UN recognizes neither side’s sovereignty, considering it an ongoing conflict. Only some 45 countries recognize the Moroccan claim, with the Americans being the latest to do so. The Biden administration has confirmed the new U.S. policy.