The lasting foreign policy legacy of the Trump administration will be the normalization deals struck between Israel and Muslim-majority nations UAE, Bahrain, Kosovo, Sudan, and Morocco. Since my last article in The American Spectator on this topic, there has been further growth in particular in Israel-UAE and Israel-Morocco relations. More importantly, these deals are generating momentum that will be difficult to reverse in the Biden-Harris administration. The Trump administration might still be able to broker one or more other normalization agreements with Israel, given recent developments.
Developments in Israel-Morocco Relations
Israel and Morocco continue to develop ties following the announcement of normalization. A Moroccan delegation arrived in Israel to discuss re-opening a liaison office in Tel Aviv in January that had been closed in 2000. Israel plans to re-open its liaison office in Rabat, also shuttered in 2000, at an undisclosed time. Both countries are planning full embassies in the future. In a visit to Morocco by US and Israeli officials, US, Morocco, and Israel issued a tri-lateral declaration stating that Morocco and Israel would “resume full official contacts” by the end of January. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu spoke with Moroccan King Mohammed VI over the phone, where the leaders congratulated each other on normalization and Prime Minister Netanyahu invited King Mohammed VI to visit Israel.
The United States officially adopted a new map showing Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, while the Israeli Foreign Ministry apologized to Morocco after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke in front of an old map that did not do so, promising that the map would be replaced.
The United States and Morocco have signed two MOUs for $4 billion in investment. Israel and Morocco signed three MOUs in the areas of civil aviation, finance, and water resource research, and a fourth making it easier for diplomats to travel to each other’s countries. The State Department announced that it established a “virtual presence post” in Western Sahara, which will be followed by a fully functioning consulate.
In aviation, the first commercial flight from Israel to Morocco following normalization occurred. Morocco’s tourism minister announced that direct flights between Morocco and Israel will begin in two to three months.
In culture, Moroccan schools will begin to teach about Jewish history and culture. King Mohammed VI has approved renovations of 119 Jewish cemeteries in Morocco, and construction of a Jewish cultural center in Fez. The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra also recorded the Moroccan national anthem, and was joined via teleconference by Moroccan singers.
In tourism, the Moroccan Minister of Tourism has officially pledged to have her country “overtake Dubai” as a favorite destination for Israeli tourists, with a stated goal of bringing 200,000 Israeli tourists to Morocco each year.
In sports, the heads of the Israeli and Moroccan national soccer teams have agreed to play a friendly match between the two. Israeli and Moroccan chess players faced each other in a New Year’s Eve tournament.
Developments in the Israel-UAE Relationship
Israel-UAE relations continue to grow.
In diplomacy, Israel and the UAE are working together to eliminate the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), long a source of anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli education.
In tourism, approximately 70,000 Israelis visited the UAE in December alone. The UAE, Rwanda, and the Seychelles were the only countries that Israelis could travel to without being required to quarantine for two weeks upon their return.
In sports, Israel and Emirati soccer federations signed a MOU, in the presence of FIFA President Gianni Infantino, that will include “the establishment of friendly matches for all national teams and clubs” and “joint workshops for the technical and administrative members of the federations.” An Israeli and Emirati hockey team played two friendly games with each other that won praise from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Additionally, the Educational Hebrew Institute is slated to open this month in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in January, which will teach Hebrew to Emirati businesspeople. Haifa University and the UAE’s TRENDS research institute have signed an agreement for academic cooperation. Yael Shelbia became the first Israeli model to be on the cover of UAE’s L’Official Arabia magazine. Israeli investors are even increasingly eyeing Dubai real estate.
On Saturday, Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu stated, “I recently visited other countries and like I couldn’t say then about the Emirates, I can’t specify right now,” leading many to speculate that more normalization deals could be on the horizon. This follows Netanyahu’s previous comments that “many, many more countries” would be normalizing relations with Israel “a lot sooner than people expect.” Which countries could those be?
Oman and Indonesia. Israel Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis recently stated that two countries will soon normalize relations with Israel, one from the Gulf and another “Muslim country that isn’t small,” and signaled that he could be referring to Oman and Indonesia, respectively.
The United States is reportedly offering Indonesia an extra $1-$2 billion in investment through the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation if it signs onto a normalization deal with Israel. However, an unnamed aide to Democratic leadership stated that “If I were the Indonesians, I wouldn’t bank on any promises the administration is making now.” However, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has stated that Indonesia will not pursue normalization with Israel until peace is achieved between Israel and the Palestinians.
Niger. As I reported previously in American Spectator, Mossad Chief Eli Cohen stated that Israel and Niger were in talks for normalizing relations, but that the success of the talks hinges on the victory of Mohamed Bazoum in Niger’s presidential elections, who supports normalization with Israel. The election which will likely head to a runoff on February 21 with Bazoum and former president Mahamane Ousmane.
Mauritania. Several Israeli and American diplomats believe that Mauritania could also be next on a short-list of countries to normalize relations with Israel. Mauritania had praised UAE’s leadership as exercising “good judgment“ in normalizing relations with Israel. The UAE has increasing economic influence on Mauritania that could bode well for normalization prospects; in February, the UAE gave Mauritania $2 billion in aid. Mauritania’s GDP was only $5.2 billion in 2018.
Saudi Arabia. According to unnamed Israeli government sources, a normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel will most likely occur within the next twelve months, and most likely well into the Biden-Harris administration. Saudi Arabia has been significantly purging its textbooks of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist material, according to a December report by IMPACT-se, a Jerusalem-based watchdog group. The textbooks are significant improvements from 2002, 2008 and 2019, according to the group.
Long-shot peace with Pakistan possible. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan sent an advisor to Israel in late November to discuss normalization, according to two prominent Pakistani analysts. According to Noor Dahri, Executive Director of the UK-based Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism, the advisor discussed Pakistan’s desire for Israel to assist it in strengthening its relationship with the Arab world and the international community, generally. Israel was amenable to these positions. Saudi Arabia is also reportedly pressuring Pakistan into normalizing relations with Israel as this would be a shift away from Pakistan’s growing relations with Iran and Turkey.
Furthermore, a senior Islamic cleric in Pakistan, Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, stunningly stated that “This is an international issue. I support the recognition of Israel. Educated Muslims need to understand that the Quran and history prove to us that the land of Israel belongs only to the Jews. King David built the house of God in Jerusalem for the Israelis and not for the Palestinians.”
Long-shot peace with Lebanon tabled for now. It is unlikely that a long-shot breakthrough in negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over their maritime border will occur. In a recent press release, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that “Regrettably, despite goodwill on both sides, the parties remain far apart.”
Count the Palestinians out. Instead of pursuing peace, the Palestinian Authority appears to be on a collision course with Israel. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has promised to hold presidential and parliamentary elections, but these will include Hamas.
The PA has proposed a cosmetic reform of its “pay-to-slay” payments for terrorism, as the PA is now amenable for paying former terrorists based on financial need rather than by length of prison sentence. Israel will likely perceive this as a meaningless “bait and switch” attempt by the PA to ingratiate itself to the Biden-Harris administration. On official PA TV, the Palestinian Authority featured a “military expert” stating that Israelis teach their children to kill everyone that is not Jewish. But whether or not the Palestinians will be on board with normalizing relations with Israel, the Trump administration will be remembered for ushering in a new era of warm relations between Muslim-majority countries and Israel.