Israel's top diplomat in Morocco on first visit since normalisation

By: AFP      Published: 07:03 PM, 11 Aug, 2021
Israel's top diplomat in Morocco on first visit since normalisation

Israel's top diplomat landed in Morocco on Wednesday for the first visit by a senior official from the Jewish state since the two sides agreed to normalise ties last year.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is expected to meet his Moroccan counterpart, Nasser Bourita, on Wednesday and open a diplomatic representation on Thursday in the capital Rabat.

"We have landed in Morocco. Proud to represent Israel during this historic visit," Lapid wrote on Twitter as his flight operated by Israeli national airline El Al arrived.

Israel and Morocco normalised ties last year after then US president Donald Trump recognised Morocco's contested sovereignty in Western Sahara.

Morocco was the fourth Arab state to establish ties with Israel last year after the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

The move infuriated the Palestinians as it shattered the longstanding Arab consensus that there should be no normalisation until Israel agrees to a comprehensive and lasting peace.

The Israeli delegation is expected to visit the royal mausoleum where kings Hassan II and Mohammed V are buried, before the bilateral meeting between Lapid and Bourita.

Lapid is also expected to visit the Beth-El synagogue in Casablanca on his two-day visit, the Israeli foreign ministry said.

Co-operation agreements 

The two countries are expected to sign three co-operation agreements on Wednesday, the Moroccan foreign ministry said, without giving further details.

The trip comes around three weeks after rights groups accused Morocco of having used the Israeli spyware programme Pegasus.

Rabat strongly denied the reports and said it was suing the rights groups.

Lapid's visit also comes a little over two weeks after direct flights were launched between Israel and Morocco.

Since then, the first Israeli tourists have flooded into the country's tourist magnet Marrakesh, and into Casablanca.

Before the pandemic, between 50,000 and 70,000 Israeli tourists -- mainly of Moroccan origin -- had visited annually, albeit by transiting through third countries.

The North African country hosts the Arab world's largest Jewish community of some 3,000 people.

They are the remnant of a once much larger community. Some 700,000 Jews of Moroccan descent now live in Israel.

Morocco and Israel maintained liaison offices in the 1990s, before closing them during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, that raged from 2000 to 2005.

Lapid's visit to Rabat follows a June trip to the United Arab Emirates, where he inaugurated the new Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi.

It comes just days before Israel is due to require all travellers returning from Morocco to quarantine following a review of the risks of Covid-19 infection.

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