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The popular view in Morocco is clearly against normalisation with Israel

People gather to stage a demonstration in support of Palestinians and to protest against Israeli attacks on Gaza Strip, on 15 May 2021 in Rabat, Morocco. [Jalal Morchidi - Anadolu Agency]
People gather to stage a demonstration in support of Palestinians and to protest against Israeli attacks on Gaza Strip, on 15 May 2021 in Rabat, Morocco. [Jalal Morchidi - Anadolu Agency]

The demonstrations in Morocco on Sunday and Monday were the largest popular referendum against the normalisation agreement signed by the Moroccan authorities with Israel at the end of last year. The deal was signed in exchange for US recognition of Morocco's disputed sovereignty over the Western Sahara.

The authorities in Rabat allowed dozens of demonstrations to take place in more than forty cities, towns and villages in solidarity with Palestine, and to denounce the brutal Israeli aggression against Palestinian civilians. Thousands of people took part from across the political spectrum, all chanting one slogan: "Normalisation is treason". They called for the abolition of the normalisation agreement with Israel and for the expulsion of the Israeli representative in Rabat, who actually claimed that he left Morocco last week to go to Israel to check on the health of his bedridden father.

The official Moroccan position was clear by its silence during the first days of the Israeli aggression on Jerusalem and then on Gaza. This developed into concerns expressed about what is happening and calls for dialogue, before Rabat announced the provision of humanitarian aid for the Palestinians in Gaza, despite the fact that the authorities know that it will be difficult to deliver such aid given the ground, air and sea blockade imposed on the territory by new ally Israel.

Although Morocco, whose monarch chairs the Quds Committee, has not issued (at the time of writing) an official condemnation of the heinous crimes being committed daily by Israel against the Palestinians, the statements of Prime Minister Saadeddine Othmani described what is happening in Palestine as a "war crime". In the Moroccan parliament, more than one voice was raised calling for the government to cancel the normalisation agreement. Such calls were even made by MPs from the Justice and Development Party, the Islamist party whose secretary-general heads the government and who not only signed the agreement but also defended it on the pretext that it would give Morocco the ability to express its commitment to defending the Palestinian cause.

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If all of these voices — on the street, in government, from the prime minister and in parliament —agree on normalisation being cancelled, then what is the point of holding on to the agreement with the racist, usurper and criminal state? The Moroccan government fell for a confidence trick when it agreed to trade its historical position on the Palestinian cause for a weak American president's recognition of the Kingdom's sovereignty over the Sahara territory. Months after the inauguration of a new US president, and six months after the normalisation deal was signed, nothing has been seen in terms of the practicalities of such US recognition. The Biden administration neither confirms nor denies Moroccan sovereignty. Moreover, one of the conditions for the trade-off was the opening of an American Consulate in the disputed territory, but there is still no trace of this on the ground.

Moroccans march during a demonstration against the US Middle East peace plan in the capital Rabat on 9 February 2020. [FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images]

Moroccans march during a demonstration against the US Middle East peace plan in the capital Rabat on 9 February 2020. [FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images]

Morocco is losing much more than non-existent gains from normalisation. The greatest loss is the harm to its symbolic credit as a defender of the Palestinian cause, embodied by its monarch's presidency of the Quds Committee. No position statement has yet been issued by the committee about what is happening, even though the aggression against the Palestinians was in Jerusalem and its Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, a core issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Official Morocco, which still expresses its position in small doses, must take a frank stance consistent with its historical positions and siding clearly with the rightful owners of the land. It must announce publicly the cancellation of any and all hastily-agreed normalisation agreements with Israel and the expulsion of the Israeli representative, as happened in 2000 after the Israeli aggression in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Despite its seriousness at that time, it cannot be compared with the scale of the crimes committed today against the Palestinians in Gaza, Jerusalem, the West Bank and the rest of occupied Palestine.

The normalisation deal went ahead even though it was not discussed in parliament. The people were not consulted before it was signed, and its cancellation today would simply be the correction of a mistake made last year. It may even restore Morocco's historic symbolic credit in the eyes of the people for the government and king in defence of what is right and in support of the oppressed.

On a popular level, Moroccans are indebted to the heroic Palestinian resistance, because it freed them from their fear, and prompted the authorities in Rabat to allow free demonstrations to be held in solidarity with the people of occupied Palestine. Moroccan officials must seize the moment to express an honourable position that restores to the Moroccan people their pride, and restores honour to the regime. This is the minimum that Morocco's people, government and king can do to show their support for the Palestinians and their just cause. The normalisation agreement between Morocco and Israel has failed both publicly and officially, as well as morally, and the time has come to drop it permanently. Furthermore, a law must be enacted that criminalises all forms of normalisation in the future, as demanded by many political and civil society voices in Morocco.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 19 May 2021

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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