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As Israel and Moroccan Jews celebrate new ties, others are critical

A Saharawi man holds up a Polisario Front flag in the Al-Mahbes area near Moroccan soldiers guarding the wall separating the Polisario controlled Western Sahara from Morocco on 3 February 2017. [STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images]
A Saharawi man holds up a Polisario Front flag near Moroccan soldiers guarding the wall separating the Polisario controlled Western Sahara from Morocco on 3 February 2017 [STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images]

Israel and Moroccan Jews on Friday celebrated an agreement to normalise relations between the two countries, but the largest party in Morocco's government faced internal wrangling over a move that some Moroccans regard as a betrayal of Palestinians.

The US-brokered deal – the fourth such "normalisation" announcement involving an Arab country and Israel in as many months – also drew criticism from Moscow.

A growing number of countries in the MENA region are normalising ties with Israel - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

A growing number of countries in the MENA region are normalising ties with Israel – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

A core element of the deal brokered by President Donald Trump was US recognition of Morocco's claim to sovereignty over Western Sahara. A decades-old territorial dispute has pitted Morocco against the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, which seeks to establish an independent state.

Russia's foreign ministry said the US decision to recognise Moroccan sovereignty was a breach of international law, the RIA news agency reported.

Winning global support for its claim over Western Sahara is Morocco's most important foreign policy goal. It has also often pursued a more open stance towards Israel and Israelis of Moroccan descent than have other Arab states.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said on Thursday that King Mohammed VI has pursued a US shift in its Western Sahara policy for three years, forging close ties with Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

But while the king has the final say on foreign policy, the moderate Islamist PJD – which gained the most seats in a 2016 election – did not appear wholly united on the announcement about Israel.

OPINION: Morocco-Israel normalisation is a slap in the face of the African Union

In a debate late on Thursday after the deal was announced, disagreements emerged among senior party leaders, according to one member who was present. Nearly a full day later, on Friday, the party had still not commented on the deal, long after its main coalition partners had welcomed the move.

Morocco was home to a large Jewish community before Israel was founded in 1948, and around 3,000 Jews still live there.

Around 50,000 Israelis travel to Morocco each year to visit religious sites and other tourist attractions, but there are no direct flights and tourists undergo a lengthy process to obtain visas.

Suzanne Harroch, a Moroccan Jewish singer from Rabat, said the new arrangement would bring her closer to her relatives in Israel.

"The history of the Jews in Morocco dates back 3,000 years. This history was interrupted, but now with this decision normalcy will be restored," she said.

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