October 27, 2021

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Morocco’s Nixon To China Moment: Rabat’s historic Moroccan Sahara win has echoes of another past

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Uday Deb
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In my previous article on the US’s recent decision to recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over the Moroccan Sahara, I had said it was a truly historic moment. In fact, I believe this is the beginning of the end of the last remaining colonial issue on the African continent. With the US now deciding to even open a consulate in the Moroccan Sahara city of Dakhla, other countries are sure to follow suit, transforming the entire economic landscape of the region and helping realise its true potential as a bridge between the continent and Morocco, and by extension between Africa and Europe.

Now let me address the second aspect of the US decision which came as part of a deal that will see Morocco re-establish diplomatic ties with Israel. I must admit that I was wrong on this matter. In fact, in August I had written an article laying out my reasons as to why I thought Morocco would not make such a deal over the Moroccan Sahara. In fact, I wasn’t alone in this assessment and many Moroccan commentators had the same analysis. In this context, I would like to describe Morocco’s decision to recognise Israel as Rabat’s ‘Nixon to China Moment in 1971’. It will be recalled that the American Nixon administration’s decision in 1971 to engage communist China had taken the whole world by surprise and sent shockwaves across the globe. Nobody could have imagined that Washington would make such a dramatic move to engage a communist nation which was thought to be against the post-World War II order crafted in large part by the Americans.

Yet, Nixon’s decision to open channels with Beijing was a shrewd one. It was calculated to drive a wedge between China and the then USSR, weakening the latter’s communist bloc. And the move in hindsight turned out to be a huge success for the US as it can be said to have contributed to the USSR’s downfall in a couple of decades.

In a similar vein, Morocco’s decision to accept the US deal over the Moroccan Sahara and normalise relations with Israel was driven by strategic logic. The move effectively neutralises those who have been conspiring against Morocco’s territorial integrity over the Sahara. This is a huge win for Rabat. After all, which country won’t take steps to bolster its territorial integrity? And as I have mentioned before, Morocco’s position on the Sahara has been clear, consistent and backed by history, legality and customary laws. So, it is in fact the US that has come around to Morocco’s position on the Sahara. It is the US that has changed its position to reflect reality, not Morocco.

On Israel, one must bear in mind that Morocco has long hosted a Jewish community with Moroccan kings sheltering Jews since the Spanish Inquisition and the Alhambra Decree. The Moroccan monarch also protected Moroccan Jews from the Nazis during World War II, even though Morocco itself was a French protectorate back then. Plus, Morocco and Israel did have low-level ties till 2000. A resumption of those ties now is secondary to the much larger Moroccan Sahara prize. Which leaves the issue of Palestinians who have received consistent support from Morocco and the Moroccan monarch. In fact, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI is the chairman of the Al Quds Committee of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and in this capacity has supervised several welfare projects and humanitarian works for the Palestinian people, and aided the preservation of the holy city of Al Quds/ Jerusalem.

King Mohammed has also clearly stated his position on the Israel-Palestine conflict on multiple occasions. He has been unequivocal in his support for the Two State Solution that sees independent, sovereign states of Israel and Palestine living side by side in concord. Plus, he has called for an end to Israel’s illegal settlement policy in Palestine territories. Even now King Mohammed has assured Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas that his and Morocco’s position towards the struggle of the Palestinian people for legitimate rights and statehood remains unchanged. This is a very big assurance.

That said Morocco would do well to remember one lesson from the US’s Nixon to China moment. It defeated the USSR but empowered China in the long run to emerge as a rival to the US itself. Morocco should keep this in mind and double its support for the Palestinian cause even as it normalises ties with Israel.

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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