Netanyahu hopes for Moroccan royal visit in Israel before March elections

For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a visit to Israel by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI could generate great support amid Israeli voters of Moroccan origin in the upcoming March 23 elections.

al-monitor This picture taken on Dec. 11, 2020, in Jerusalem shows Israeli newspapers' front page titles about the announcement that Israel is to establish diplomatic relations with Morocco. - Outgoing President Donald Trump's double announcement of a normalisation of ties between Morocco and Israel and US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara has prompted mixed reactions. In a statement by the royal palace, Morocco's King Mohammed VI confirmed on December 10 that his country would "resume official contacts.... and diplomatic relations with minimal delay" with Israel, two decades after the two countries closed liaison offices. Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images.

Jan 27, 2021

Reports yesterday reveal that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to arrange a visit to Israel by Moroccan King Mohammed VI. Netanyahu would like the king to arrive in Israel in the coming weeks, once the nationwide coronavirus lockdown is lifted. Reportedly, officials from the prime minister’s office and officials from Israel’s National Security Council (NSC) have been in contact recently with officials at the Dar al-Makhzen Palace to advance such a visit.

Israel’s prime minister hopes for the visit to take place before the March 23 elections. Such a visit is expected to appeal to the tens of thousands of Israeli voters of Moroccan origin. Still, chances of the visit taking place before the elections appear slim, as the king is reluctant to assist Netanyahu in his electoral efforts. An unnamed source from Jerusalem was quoted by Yedioth Ahronot newspaper as saying "there are talks and attempts, but I find it hard to see this happening. We know that Balfour (the prime minister's official residence) and the NSC want this to happen, but it is uncertain they will manage to pull it off before the election — although the king might change his mind and make a surprise visit."

Another obstacle to such a visit is the condition reportedly set by the king, which is to combine a visit to Israel with a visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Former US President Donald Trump had announced on Dec. 10 that Israel and Morocco agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations. Trump had also said that the United States had agreed to recognize Morocco’s claim over the disputed Western Sahara region. A joint Israeli-American delegation arrived in Rabat on Dec. 22 for a signature ceremony of several bilateral accords, cementing relations between the two countries.

In its contacts with the Trump administration, Morocco originally committed to opening liaison offices rather than embassies. Still, on a Dec. 26 phone conversation with Netanyahu, the Moroccan king said he was committed to opening embassies as part of the next phase of the process, pointing out that such a move would be the "natural next step." During the conversation, the Israeli premier invited the king for a visit. A statement issued by Netanyahu’s office said, “The leaders congratulated each other over the renewal of ties between the countries, the signing of the joint statement with the United States and the agreements between the two countries.”

Since then, a Moroccan delegation visited Israel to inspect the situation of the building that served some 20 years ago as the country’s liaison office. Israel did the same. David Govrin, who previously served as Israel’s ambassador to Egypt, opened Israel’s liaison office in Rabat. Govrin will run the Israeli mission in Rabat until an ambassador is appointed formally.

According to reports in recent days, Netanyahu is planning to visit the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain as soon as possible once the current coronavirus lockdown ends. Some reports mentioned Feb. 9 or Feb. 11 as possible dates for the visits.

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