Moroccan officials to land in Israel at start of week, PM invites King

Moroccan officials to land in Israel at start of week, PM invites King

A delegation of Moroccan officials is due to visit Israel as early as today to prepare for the opening of a liaison office, now that ties between the two countries have been resumed after 20 years.

They are also expected to speak with Israelis about opening an embassy, a move that would upgrade the ties to that of full diplomatic relations.

On Friday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally invited King Mohammed VI of Morocco to visit Israel, during a phone call.

“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” Netanyahu told the king, as he borrowed the famous last line of the well-known Humphrey Bogart movie Casablanca that was set in Morocco.

“We agreed a Moroccan delegation would arrive in Israel at the start of the week to advance everything, the opening of liaison offices, the advancement [opening] of embassies, direct flights to Morocco and back,” Netanyahu said in a video he posted on his Facebook page on Saturday night.

“The conversation was very warm, very emotional,” said Netanyahu.

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He explained that the conversation took place in French, English and Arabic.

The two leaders spoke just three days after a joint US-Israeli delegation headed by White House special adviser Jared Kushner and Israel’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, who is of Moroccan descent, visited Rabat and met with the king.

Netanyahu thanked the king for hosting the delegation.

The two countries signed an agreement to resume the diplomatic ties that were severed in 2000, when the Second Intifada broke out. They also agreed to reopen within two weeks the liaison offices that had existed in Rabat and Tel Aviv.

A Moroccan Foreign Ministry delegation is scheduled to arrive in Israel today to prepare for the opening of the Tel Aviv Liaison Office.

The six years of relations the two countries had enjoyed from 1994-2000 never reached the level of full diplomatic ties. The relations that were re-established Tuesday are a resumption of that situation and are also not considered to be full diplomatic ties.

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The countries are now working toward achieving that status.

Already in Rabat on Tuesday, Israeli and Moroccan officials signed four bilateral agreements: on civil aviation, visa exemption for official passport holders, water and finance. The aviation agreement allows for direct flights between Israel and Morocco.

On Wednesday, Morocco’s Tourism Minister Fettah Alaoui said that direct flights would be established within the next two to three months, according to the Moroccan news agency, Agence Maghreb Arab Presse.

In his comments to Netanyahu on Friday, Mohammed stressed the importance the Jewish communities of Morocco played in relations with Israel, which has close to a million citizens of Moroccan descent.

Jewish history in Morocco dates back 2,000 years, but most of the community has emigrated and at present, only several thousand Jews live in the country.

The king also stressed that he considers the Palestinian cause to be highly important. He also recalled that the Moroccan monarchy had long played an important role in helping Israel make peace with its neighbors, according to a statement put out by the Royal Palace.

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Morocco is the fourth country to announce its intention to normalize ties under the rubric of the US-brokered Abraham Accords. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have ratified agreements for full diplomatic relations with Israel; ties with Sudan have been announced but not formalized.

Morocco differs from those countries, because it has had a long history of relations with Israel.

Former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin twice visited Morocco – once secretly in 1976, when he sought former King Hussan II’s help in opening the door for what would be the 1979 peace deal with Egypt.

He then made an official visit in 1993, along with former president Shimon Peres, who at the time was the country’s foreign minister. They came to Morocco after signing the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Peres had also visited Hussan in 1986, when Peres was prime minister.

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