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Morocco: Exporter of Oranges and Broker of Peace

By Randy Pinsky

During the pandemic, most countries focused on keeping their economies running and their citizens safe; Israel did this and also managed to secure normalization with not one but four Arab states.

What led up to this historic moment?

The clincher was the realization that contrary to popular assertions, relations could be developed in spite of the lingering Israeli-Palestinian issue. In “Israel and Morocco: From Clandestine Partnership to the Abraham Accords,”[1] Azrieli visiting scholar Jonathan Ghariani effectively explored the unique role Morocco has played in brokering such rapprochement, as well as its potential role as mediator in the region.[2]

The Collaboration Begins

Morocco’s relations with Israel started off on a purely security level. As a new state, it partnered with the Mossad, Israel’s secret intelligence agency, for military training and equipment.

But how did it engage in such relations without incurring the wrath of its Arab brothers? After all, the Arab League collectively swore to not engage with the Jewish state following its independence, with relations of any nature being tantamount to treason.

In 1948, Morocco was not yet an independent state and thus had not taken part in the war. It subsequently possessed leverage to act in its own best interests. This included securing military support against increasingly aggressive Algeria and Egypt; the latter of which housed Moroccan opposition leaders (Ghariani 2022).

As they were also considered to be belligerent to Israel, it was in the countries’ mutual interest to join forces. 

And therein lay the brilliance of the rapprochement. 

Ben-Gurion’s Periphery Doctrine

When the state of Israel was created, it was clear that it was in a hostile neighborhood, where surrounding states negated its very existence.

However, Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion quickly reasoned that they were not the only players in town…

He shrewdly advocated establishing connections with non-Arab and/or pro-Western states with similar interests to offset the Arab League’s diplomatic and economic boycott (A Pragmatic Reset of Israel’s ‘Periphery Doctrine’) (Ghariani 2022).

Morocco was one such country. It had the largest Jewish community in the Arab world when it received independence from France in 1956; a community with roots tracing back thousands of years. Due to persistent Arab persecution, there were massive clandestine aliyah migrations to Israel (Operation Yachin 1961-64), resulting in tighter connections between the countries.

Relations were also made possible under the new leadership of King Hassan ll who broke from the previous affiliation with the United Arab Republic and Soviet Union, aligning with the West, and by extension, with Israel (Ghariani 2022).

Morocco’s military connections would soon expand into friendlier diplomatic relations, facilitated by then-agricultural minister, Moshe Dayan.

The move towards greater citrus exports was a very bold one as it undercut the Arab League's uncompromising boycott of any trade with Israel. “This non-security related aspect of the relationship played an important role in launching the seeds of proto-normalization” (Ghariani 2022).

Unique in Many Senses

Morocco would become one of the first Arab nations to develop formal diplomatic ties with Israel after Egypt and Jordan.

Indeed, it set itself apart early on when it refused to sever ties with Egypt for making peace with Israel in 1978. In fact, Morocco had been instrumental in brokering what would become the Camp David Accords, mediating between Israel and Egypt.

A distinguishing factor was Morocco’s willingness to acknowledge Israel’s perspective. Whereas other states demanded ‘a full and complete withdrawal’ from the Sinai Peninsula following the Six-Day War and were uncompromising on the Palestinian issue, the kingdom understood Israel’s concerns about potential security threats; an important distinction from the usual ‘all or nothing’ approach.

Morocco’s unique positioning and commitment to mediation would enable Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem and the eventual signing of the peace agreement, “break[ing] the psychological barrier that existed between Israel and Egypt” (Ghariani 2022).

This was followed by an unprecedented invitation of Prime Minister Shimon Peres in 1986, invoking significant protest by the Arab League. The visit “highlight[ed] Morocco’s unique position in the arena of Arab-Israeli affairs and reaffirmed Morocco’s independent stance in the Arab world” (Ghariani 2022). 

Even a Rose Has Thorns

While promising, there have of course been challenges in Israeli-Moroccan relations. In 1973, Morocco contributed forces against Israel in the Yom Kippur War (Ghariani 2022). Moreover, diplomatic relations only partially resumed in 2020 after a twenty-year gap since cutting ties due to the second Palestinian intifada uprising against Israel.

In spite of these set-backs, Morocco has demonstrated its renewed willingness to fostering peace in the region.

Setting a New Standard

“That an Arab country was willing to establish clandestine ties with Israel while all the Arab states were either in a state of war or no relations at all…demonstrates that the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not necessarily a prerequisite to normalized relations in the region,” asserted Ghariani (2022, italics mine).

Indeed, connections can and have been made on similar interests; Morocco and Israel due to the common threat of Egypt and Algeria; the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, regarding the belligerent Iran, in spite of their divergent perspectives on the situation.

As noted in Morocco: A True Partner in Peace for Israel, “[together] we can build an ‘Abrahamic Tent’ of shared beliefs and values that will unify us all against hate and evil.”

Morocco: Broker of Peace in the Middle East?

From the unthinkable has emerged partners in peace. “What we are doing here is making history,” stated Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid at the first Arab-Israeli diplomatic meeting on Israeli soil held in March 2022, “building a new regional architecture based on progress, technology, religious tolerance, security and intelligence cooperation.”

As can be seen with warmer Moroccan-Israeli relations, there is truly “the potential for significant headway in what many feel to be an impossibly complex tangle” (Ghariani 2022).  

Given Morocco’s leadership role in the Camp David Accords, is it possible it could be the facilitator of future Israeli-Palestinian peace talks?

As concluded by Ghariani (2022), “Morocco has done it before; perhaps it can do it again.”


[1] Part of the Azrieli Institute’s new Occasional Paper series.

[2] Recently cited in “Features of Moroccan-Israeli relations in the Context of Normalization: Friends or Allies?” (in Arabic) found at

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