Israel has officially recognised Moroccan sovereignty over the contested region of Western Sahara, according to statements from the Moroccan government and the Israeli Prime Minister’s office. It was announced on Monday that Israel is planning to establish a consulate in Dakhla, a prominent city in the disputed territory.
The news followed a letter from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to King Mohammed VI of Morocco, indicating Israel’s stance on the matter. Moroccan control over Western Sahara has been a contentious issue since 1975 when Spanish colonial rule ended. The Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, advocates for an independent state within the region.
The letter from Israel detailing their position will reportedly be sent to the United Nations, regional and international organisations, and to all countries Israel has diplomatic relations with. Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen affirmed that this recognition of Western Sahara as Moroccan territory would bolster ties between the two nations and enhance regional stability.
A senior Moroccan official said Israel’s clear-cut stance on Western Sahara adds to the growing support for Morocco’s autonomy plan for the territory, which has been backed by Washington and several European capitals, including Madrid.
This Israeli recognition, however, will not change Morocco’s stance in advocating for a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is anticipated that the decision may boost Israeli investment in Western Sahara.
In 2020, Morocco agreed to normalise relations with Israel as part of a US-brokered agreement. This agreement saw then-US President Donald Trump recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. This has been criticised by Palestinians, who argue that Arab countries have undermined peace efforts by abandoning the demand for Israel to cede land for a Palestinian state in exchange for recognition.
The appointment of an Israeli colonel as defence attache to Morocco further indicated the warming relations between the two nations. Since the renewal of ties, Israel and Morocco have signed several cooperation agreements, including a defence pact.
Israel’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara echoes the US’s 2020 decision to do the same. The region, formerly a Spanish colony rich in offshore oil deposits and minerals, was annexed by Morocco in 1975. The UN has tried, and failed, to organise a referendum on the region’s future due to disagreements over voter eligibility. The Polisario Front reignited armed conflict in 2020, ending a 29-year truce.
The region’s tensions have also had a significant impact on Morocco’s neighbour, Algeria, which severed diplomatic ties with Rabat in 2021, escalating hostilities between the two countries, both of whom have shared allies in the West and Middle East.