Israel has decided to “recognize Morocco’s sovereignty” over the disputed Western Sahara region, the royal office in Rabat announced Monday, citing a letter from the Israeli prime minister.
According to the letter, Benjamin Netanyahu informed Morocco’s King Mohammed VI of “the State of Israel’s decision to recognise Morocco’s sovereignty” over the mineral-rich desert region, the royal office said in a statement.
Netanyahu said in the letter that Israel is examining the “opening of a consulate in the town of Dakhla,” located in the Moroccan part of Western Sahara — a move long demanded by Rabat.
Israel confirmed the contents of the statement from Morocco when contacted by AFP.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said Netanyahu’s announcement would “strengthen the relations between the states and peoples, as well as the continued cooperation to enhance peace and regional stability.”
The Western Sahara dispute dates back to 1975, when colonial ruler Spain withdrew from the territory, sparking a 15-year war between Morocco and the Polisario Front movement seeking independence in the territory.
Rabat controls nearly 80 percent of Western Sahara and sees the entire region, home to abundant phosphates and fisheries, as its sovereign territory.
Rabat advocates for limited autonomy for the vast desert territory while the Algeria-backed Polisario seeks independence and has called for a UN-supervised referendum on self-determination, but it has never taken place.
Since late 2020, the Polisario says it has been in “a war of legitimate defence” and has declared the entire Western Sahara, including its land, sea, and airspace, a “war zone.”
Amir Ohana, the speaker of the Israeli parliament, paid an official visit to Rabat in early June and said that his country “should move toward” recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
Ohana said “serious discussions” between the countries over the issue were underway and that Netanyahu “will be announcing his decisions in the near future.”
According to Monday’s statement from the royal office, Netanyahu’s letter said Israel’s decision would be transmitted to the United Nations, international organizations, and every country with which Israel has diplomatic relations.
Israel’s chief of military staff also announced the appointment of the country’s first-ever military attache to Morocco on Monday.
Colonel Sharon Itah “should be assuming the position in the next few months,” a military spokesperson told AFP.
Morocco and Israel normalized relations in December 2020 as part of a series of similar US-backed deals with Arab states known as the Abraham Accords.
In return for normalization with Israel, Rabat received from Washington recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
Israeli-Moroccan cooperation in security, trade, and tourism has since grown.
But while politicians push for closer ties, sections of Morocco’s public are cautious of the presence of ultra-nationalists in Israel’s government, who are hostile to further talks with the Palestinians.
“The strengthening of our relations with Israel will not be done to the detriment of our principle of support for the Palestinian people and their legitimate rights,” a senior Moroccan official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Israel’s decision to recognize Rabat’s sovereignty over Western Sahara comes at a time of heightened rivalry between Morocco and Algeria after the two North African neighbors severed their diplomatic relations.