Israel pushes US to recognize Moroccan sovereignty in Western Sahara - report

Morocco, which occupies more than 80% of the Western Sahara, claims that the disputed lands have been historically Moroccan since it gained independence in 1958.

Polisario Front fighters at a checkpoint in Morocco (photo credit: REUTERS)
Polisario Front fighters at a checkpoint in Morocco
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The United States and Israel are negotiating a scenario that would have the US recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the occupied territories in Western Sahara if the Arab state would move in the direction of normalizing relations with Israel, according to an Axios report.
The move itself would be the culmination of a successful 12-month period of Arab-Israeli relations, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting Chad and Sudan and making steps to normalize ties after this week's diplomatic mission, as well as the warming relations and cooperation with Saudi Arabia, in addition to a number of other Arab states.
It would also give Netanyahu and Moroccan King Mohammed VI a well needed PR push, in light of the Israeli prime minister's pending domestic legal issues – and the international condemnation over the Moroccan government's refusal to return the occupied territories of the Western Sahara to the self-determined government of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), in line with the UN resolution.
Morocco, which occupies more than 80% of the Western Sahara following the events brought on by the Madrid Accords, claims that the disputed lands have been historically Moroccan since it became an independent sovereign nation in 1958 and remains an integral part of the kingdom.
Following the signing of the agreement in 1975 and the subsequent Spanish withdrawal, an armed conflict broke out between Morocco, Mauritania and the Polisario Front of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) backed by Algeria, which continued until a ceasefire was declared in 1991 (Mauritania withdrew from the conflict in 1979). It is considered to be one of the world's longest running conflicts, complicated further by the involvement of several African nations.
Although Israel is not officially recognized in the capital Rabat, reports about clandestine relations, including security services, between the two countries have circulated for years. Moroccan officials, such as Princess Lalla Salma, have also publicly expressed their sympathy to Israel and the Jewish people.
Israeli-Moroccan talks and relations began back in 2018, when Netanyahu met with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita during the UN General Assembly. The meeting was established via a back channel created by Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Jewish-Moroccan businessman Yariv Elbaz, a close confidant of Jared Kushner, according to Axios.
According to the report, the channel was created without the knowledge of Mossad head Yossi Cohen – who was allegedly furious when he heard about it.
Ben-Shabbat's intention is to use the close Israeli ties with the Trump administration to get through to the Moroccan government – to eventually create a trilateral deal that would surely draw international condemnation.
The deal, however, reportedly in the works since 2018, has been consistently shelved or denied by officials such as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as being condemned by former US national security adviser John Bolton.
It is not clear if the three sides will ever agree to the deal, even though the negotiations were allegedly meant to be revealed before the 2019 April elections. However, the plan was postponed after Arab media reported that Ben-Shabbat visited the Moroccan kingdom, setting off question marks around the world.