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Morocco wants to be more active in Middle East diplomacy and its ties with Israel have deepened, a diplomatic source told The Jerusalem Post after the foreign ministers from the two countries met in Paris on Wednesday.
It was the pair's first publicly disclosed talk in years even though it was Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's second meeting with her Moroccan counterpart, Muhammad Benaissa, and her third with high-level Moroccan officials.
"The meeting and the fact that it was public signals that the diplomatic ties between the two countries have become more and more intimate," the source said.
In light of the split between Fatah and Hamas and the appointment of Salaam Fayad as Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Morocco is interested in playing a more significant role in facilitating peace, the source said.
Livni told Benaissa that despite the threat posed by the Hamas takeover of Gaza last month, there was a new opportunity for Israel to move forward with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the source said. Livni added that Israel was determined to take advantage of this opportunity.
The diplomatic source said Morocco was a moderate Muslim country and was concerned with the rise of radical Islam. As such, it too felt threatened by the Hamas takeover in Gaza. Morocco feels that it has a especially large stake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because it is one of three countries along with Saudi Arabia and Jordan that is a trustee of the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem.
The two foreign ministers also spoke about the Arab League decision to send representatives to Israel to discuss the league's peace initiative, the source said. But both parties agreed that such a role could only be supportive of the main dialogue that must occur between Israel and the Palestinians.
Speaking to reporters in France after the meeting, Livni said the formation of a new Palestinian government that excluded Hamas provided a chance for progress.
"The situation is very complicated when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but there are new opportunities. The formation of the new Palestinian government gives us hope, and we have to work together," she said.
Benaissa did not speak to reporters, but shook Livni's hand for the cameras. In the background, members of the Israeli delegation unwrapped gold pens they said were given to them by the Moroccans.
In her remarks, Livni did not specifically address the issue of Israeli ties with Morocco, a US ally.
But she noted Morocco's "important role" in the Arab League, which has thrown its support behind Abbas.
Livni added that Israel and moderate Arab nations, which include Morocco, share common interests. "We have the same concerns, we face the same threats, and so we want to see a process in place so we can move forward," she said.
Morocco broke off ties with Israel after the increase in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in late 2000, accusing Israeli security services of committing "inhuman acts" against Palestinian civilians. It closed the Israeli liaison bureau in Morocco and Morocco's liaison office in Tel Aviv.
But contacts have continued, largely behind the scenes. Israeli officials said there had been bilateral talks that were not disclosed publicly, including on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly and the World Economic Forum. MK Silvan Shalom, Israel's foreign minister at the time, discussed the possibility of reopening a diplomatic mission with Morocco's King Muhammad VI in a September 2003 visit to the North African country.
Before relations soured, Morocco played an important behind-the-scenes role in the Middle East crisis under King Hassan II, who died in 1999. About 500,000 Israelis, roughly 10 percent of the Jewish population, are immigrants from Morocco or their descendants.
AP contributed to this report.
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