US Envoy and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s visit to Morocco is indicative of many things, not least that he is busy shoring up regional consensus for the Bahrain conference about Palestine, before unveiling the economic portion of the “deal of the century”. Depending on media revelations — secrecy is part of the deal’s propaganda — the supposed “peace plan” is but a unilateral arrangement to dash Palestinian hopes, re-arrange the geography of Palestine and prepare the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region for more partitioning and political-economic annexation. Logically, Morocco aligns itself with those who oppose the deal, because supporting it will mean the political demise of Arab countries.
Moroccan foreign policy currently favours keeping at arms-length from total surrender to US plans, despite longstanding ties with Washington. When it comes to direct relations with the US, Rabat is more lenient, except in the Sahara, but refrains from backing projects that have the potential to harm the region as a whole.
Leniency in bilateral relations includes Morocco’s ardent involvement in the war on terrorism, which pushed George W Bush to declare the Kingdom to be a major non-NATO ally hosting a headquarters for the US Regional Command in Africa (AFRICOM). More recently, Morocco reconsidered buying a Russian S400 missile defence system, lest Trump retaliated, and has engaged in serious negotiations to purchase a US MIM-104 Patriot air defence system instead.
Contrariwise, since 2008, Morocco axed the military facility the south-western town of Tan-Tan. The base’s aims were totally discouraging — the facilitation of military interventions and competition with France over untapped oil reserves in Africa — and threatening for local stability. In fact, flying drones from Moroccan territory to attack Al-Qaida in South Algeria, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabab in Somalia, or militant groups in Mali or Libya, could prompt revenge attacks and further exacerbate regional instability.
Moreover, in 2016, shortly before US President Donald Trump took office, Morocco was dissatisfied with US policies in the region. In the joint Moroccan-Gulf States’ summit in Riyadh, King Mohammed IV denounced changing the Arab Spring into an opportunity to tear the MENA region apart, with the Sahara cut off as Morocco’s share of the regional scheme. The concern was that in pursuing their interests, international powers may fuel internal struggles, sub-divide countries or destroy unions, despite concessions or strategic alliances.
Since then, a Saudi-led coalition has blockaded Qatar as part of the regional pressure to back the US “deal of the century”. In response, Morocco called for the prioritising of the region’s bilateral interests, preferring a neutral position, and sent planeloads of food to Doha to break the siege. As the rift continues, Morocco has quit the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen, while the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates have shifted some of their investments in Morocco to neighbouring Mauritania. Despite the financial loss, and untimely hostility, Rabat prefers a reconcilable spat rather than to be allied with policies which damage regional potential and ultimately affect local options.
Chairing the Quds Committee is an additional strategic commitment towards the region. Morocco condemned the US Embassy transfer to Jerusalem, and stressed the religious, historical and cultural importance of Palestine in communicating its concerns to Trump, US Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Furthermore, pressure to accept the Trump deal and its prospective outcomes pushed Jordan’s King Abdullah to visit Rabat. The joint press conference after the visit stressed the two Kingdoms’ unwillingness to forsake Palestine to an imposed “solution” or to accept the total handover of Jerusalem to the Zionists.
More ludicrous for the two monarchs is that pro-deal countries, especially the US, insist on Jordan changing itself into a federal state with the Palestinians, but keep delaying Morocco’s autonomy plan to end the rift in the Sahara. Territorial sovereignty for the two Kings, as well as for the Palestinians, is crucial, while the Trump administration cares about it the least.
As a result, Kushner’s visit to Rabat will have little impact in the long run. Morocco’s participation in Bahrain, if it happens at all, will be symbolic. Added to official reticence, pro-Palestine activists and grassroots movements have organised a sit-in in Rabat to celebrate Earth Day, denounce the recent Israeli attack on Gaza and condemn Kushner’s visit simultaneously.
Official and civil players understand that the US deal sells illusions to the MENA region, which some Arab regimes are buying into submissively to the present and future detriment of the region as a whole. Kushner may be able to drum up support for the plan, but economic promises without acceptable political solutions are simply more hot air.
The political portion of the deal is the most dubious. Totally disrespecting the Palestinians and legitimising settler-colonialism cannot entice anyone into an economic plan that removes political rights. Today, even the Palestinian Authority is marginalised, being against all concessions and belief in “economic peace” for the simple reason that the deal wipes Palestine off the map, to all intents and purposes. As such, Morocco must keep opposing the plan and know that gathering other objectors is entirely feasible.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.