Another month, another “quid pro quo” peace deal, said the Financial Times (U.K.) in an editorial. Morocco last week became the fourth Arab nation this year to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel under a deal negotiated by the Trump administration.
All of these pacts have been transactional: The United Arab Emirates got the green light to buy advanced U.S.-made F-35 fighter jets for recognizing Israel, while “Sudan was removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.” Morocco also secured something it has long wanted: U.S. recognition of its annexation of the vast desert territory of Western Sahara. Trump is content to have another diplomatic win he can display to the Republican Party’s pro-Israel base, never mind the damage to international law. No other Western country has recognized Rabat’s claim to Western Sahara.
For the U.S. to do so “will embolden a Moroccan regime already accused of human rights violations in the territory.” Worse, it “risks further destabilizing a region” that has proved a “fertile recruiting ground for Islamist terrorism.” It’s a dangerous time for such an intervention, said Jillian Kestler- D’Amours in AlJazeera.com (Qatar). Western Sahara—about the same size as New Zealand—is home to the Sahrawi people, who have been agitating for their own country ever since Spain ended its colonial occupation in 1975. Morocco, a former French colony, was eager to exploit its southern neighbor’s abundant reserves of phosphate, a key ingredient in fertilizer; its fish stocks; and its land access to the rest of Africa—and it annexed Western Sahara soon after Spain left.
The Polisario Front, a Sahrawi separatist movement supported by neighboring Algeria, waged an independence war for 15 years, until the United Nations brokered a cease-fire in 1991. The conflict had remained frozen until just a few weeks ago, when Moroccan troop incursions prompted the Polisario Front to renounce the cease-fire. Now, with tensions high, the U.S. is suddenly saying that the most Sahrawis can hope for is limited autonomy “under overarching Moroccan control”? This is a recipe for revolt.
Morocco didn’t need such a sweetener to formalize relations with Israel, said Alfred Hackensberger in Die Welt (Germany). The two countries have had “good relations for decades,” and their secret services “work together constantly.” The historical ties are strong: A wave of Spanish Jews fleeing the Inquisition settled there in the 15th century, and more than a million Israelis—including 12 members of the current cabinet—have Moroccan roots. It was inevitable that Morocco and Israel would formalize relations at some point, but by wangling a major concession out of Trump to do just that, Rabat has scored “a diplomatic triumph.” Israel will take it, said Gideon Levy in Haaretz (Israel). Sure, the deal is all perks for Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, who gets Western Sahara plus the chance to buy $1 billion in U.S. weapons. That’s true of all these President Trump–brokered accords: They chiefly “help these states realize their interests vis-à-vis the U.S., especially arms deals.” So what? At least it’s “peace, not war.”