US President Donald Trump startled Moroccans when he revealed brokering a normalisation deal with Rabat, as public attention was focused entirely on developments in the Sahara. However, the royal office statement made it clear that Morocco is engaging in a new phase in its regional positions.
The deal, as revealed so far, comprises two components. Firstly, the US recognises Morocco's sovereignty over its southern provinces, sets up a consulate in Dakhla and invests $3 billion in the area. In return, Morocco normalises touristic, diplomatic, technological and economic relations with Israel. Nevertheless, this allegedly limited normalisation is wide enough for the US and Israel to affect Morocco's internal and foreign policies.
For the Moroccan public, the surprising move contradicts diplomatic achievements. Laayoune and Dakhla host numerous consulates and international sports and cultural events. Maritime borders have been drawn over the Sahara coast. Around 50 countries no longer recognise the Polisario Front. Morocco is now very active in Africa – politically and economically. These measures garnered support not only for Morocco's autonomy plan, but also its intervention to clear the Guerguerat buffer zone from a Polisario blockade.
Secondly, Morocco already makes concessions, signing arms contracts with the US and Israel to mitigate their pressures. Thirdly, Morocco resisted pressure during the Obama administration. Rabat did not welcome the deal of the century, and refused Netanyahu's unplanned visit to accompany US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Why Morocco squanders this effort is not yet clear. Moroccan media focuses solely on hailing the political and diplomatic weight of the US recognition, creating a smokescreen to avoid mentioning the threefold normalisation as the deals backfire.
When Moroccan officials discuss normalisation, they twist towards Moroccan Jews in Israel, some of whom find difficulty to visit Morocco despite their origins. However, Moroccans did not expel them. As part of the Zionist movement, or individually, they migrated to Palestine, committing war crimes against its people ever since. They have deported, besieged, murdered, tortured and imprisoned Palestinians, and assaulted holy shrines in Palestine. Will they pay the price? Or do they want to have two homelands, in Israel and Morocco, while Palestinians still yearn for one?
The second facet of normalisation is forsaking the Moroccan pro-Palestine legacy. History, whereby Morocco has had ties with Palestine for centuries, is part of the Moroccan regime's legitimacy today. The king of Morocco also heads the Al-Quds Committee, a position some other powers in the region would like to take. Anti-normalisation civil society in Morocco is very vibrant as well. This confirms that Morocco cannot walk away from the Palestinian cause. However, the logic of open normalisation with Israel while supporting Palestine is a true challenge to concretise. Politically, deserting Palestine shows readiness to cower to foreign powers against the will of local voices. Morally, Rabat will discover trading a just cause for another just cause, for the benefit of a coercive occupation. Though the royal office insists that normalisation won't affect ties with Palestine, decadence is difficult to hide.
The third, and possibly the gravest, facet of normalisation is the repercussions on Moroccan politics. It will remain truly challenging for Morocco to maintain its full sovereignty. Zionist intrusion in Moroccan politics, economy and cultural scenery is expected to increase. Israel favours weak states, or weakens them, to maintain security cooperation and ensure animosity against the Arab Springs, especially where Islamists partake in leading their countries, such as Morocco and Tunisia today.
The US, in particular, may take Morocco for a platform for quicker military, economic or security interventions in Africa. Legally, Trump's decision is not binding for President-elect Joe Biden or future presidents. However, it practically is, due to its significance for both the US and Israel, which will push its measures to the maximum.
The normalisation stumble will continue to generate controversy. The deal, at face value, strengthens Morocco's position in the Sahara. Moroccans do support that side, but hidden repercussions affect them, and beyond.
Part of the blame lies with neighbouring countries, especially Algeria, which has been trying to break Morocco into two to feed some reminiscent aspirations of the Cold War. The dormant Maghreb Union is a serious solution to the quagmire in North Africa, if efforts join to meet common challenges. Otherwise, Africa, north and south alike, will serve as a battlefield for the US struggle with the Chinese economic and Russian military expansion in the continent at large.
The situation for Rabat is critical. Condemnation of its mismanagement may accelerate when escalations occur in Palestine, or when other Arab or African states normalise. However, it is more difficult to maintain full autonomy in both internal and foreign policies.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.