Morocco downplays significance of group sent to Israel

Rocky start to Morocco-Israel deal as Jerusalem celebrates “delegation” that Rabat downgrades to “logistics team.”

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Five days after showcasing a ceremony between an American-Israeli delegation and King Mohammed VI normalizing ties between Israel and Morocco, Rabat downgraded its reciprocal visit Monday to a mere “logistics team,” i24 News reported.

Morocco’s Foreign Ministry sent a statement to the news channel denying Israeli media reports that a normalization delegation was arriving, saying that the group would have “no diplomatic authority.”

On Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a video on Facebook about a conversation he had had with the king the previous day which seemed to lend more powers to the group.

“We agreed that the Moroccan delegation will come here at the start of the week in order to advance everything, the opening of liaison offices, the advancement of embassies, direct flights to Morocco and back,” he said.

He added that the king had talked again of his determination to fulfill all the terms of the Joint Declaration signed between the two countries.

These included the establishing of “full diplomatic, peaceful and friendly relations,” as well as promoting economic bilateral cooperation in trade, finance, technology, energy, agriculture and many other fields.

There are signs that whatever the status of the current team is, Morocco intends on following through with the agreement.

Israel Hayom reported Monday that a senior Moroccan official had said late last week that, “King Mohammed VI is not dawdling, and has ordered that a delegation be sent as soon as possible to Israel which will include senior government officials, experts and advisers in the security, technology, economy and commerce fields, etc. The Foreign Ministry in Rabat is working on getting together the delegation that is expected to reach Israel in two weeks.”

Jerusalem and Rabat maintained low level ties since 1994, the year that Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel, to 2000, when it broke off relations after the Palestinians began the Second Intifada. The official contacts had reached the stage of liaison offices, and the immediate goal of the two countries is to re-establish that diplomatic level, with embassies and full ties to follow.

Morocco and Israel have enjoyed an unofficial relationship for decades. Unlike other Arab countries with which the Jewish state had no diplomatic relations, its citizens could visit there on their Israeli passports.

In non-pandemic years, an average of 50,000 Israelis, mostly of Moroccan descent, toured the country. Morocco’s Minister of Tourism Nadia Fettah Alaoui said that she expects that after direct air links are set up in two to three months’ time, this number will jump to some 200,000.