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17 Jul, 2023 21:50

Israel recognizes Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara

The UN does not recognize Rabat’s claim to the territory and has called for a referendum to settle the matter
Israel recognizes Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara

Israel has recognized Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced on Monday. The statement followed a proclamation by Morocco’s Foreign Ministry that King Mohammed VI had received a letter from Netanyahu affirming Moroccan ownership of the territory. 

Netanyahu revealed Israel is considering the “opening of a consulate in the town of Dakhla,” as demanded by Morocco when the two countries normalized relations in 2020.

Israel is only the second nation, after the US, to back up Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony it annexed in 1975. The Polisario Front rejected Rabat’s claim and fought for independence up until a UN-brokered cease-fire in 1991.

While the region’s fate is supposed to be decided by a UN referendum, the competing factions have been unable to agree on who is eligible to vote, and fighting broke out again for the first time in 29 years in 2020. 

While sparsely populated, Western Sahara contains some valuable resources, including phosphate deposits and rich fishing waters, and is believed to have significant untapped offshore oil deposits as well. 

Israel and Morocco reestablished diplomatic ties under the US-backed Abraham Accords after Washington essentially bribed Rabat with the recognition of its claim to Western Sahara. This has strained Morocco’s already-tense relationship with its neighbor, Algeria, which backs the Polisario Front.

Following the normalization of relations between Morocco and Israel, Algeria cut diplomatic ties with Morocco in 2021, citing “hostile actions.” The country also blamed terrorist groups backed by Morocco and Israel for setting the devastating wildfires that killed dozens across Algeria.

The Abraham Accords upended years of international consensus regarding the need for a UN referendum to decide who controls Western Sahara, as the UN does not recognize Morocco’s annexation of the territory. However, Israel has long been in a similar position regarding international rejection of its own claim to the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, or the Golan Heights – none of which are recognized by the UN.