Israel's Meir Ben-Shabbat, front left, Jared Kushner center, in Rabat, Morocco, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar) AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar

“Morocco and Israel are making huge strides on their commitments to resume full diplomatic relations, promote economic cooperation and to reopen their liaison offices very quickly,” said Jared Kushner.

By Associated Press

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner led a delegation from Israel to Morocco on Tuesday on the first known direct flight since the two countries agreed to establish full diplomatic ties earlier this month as part of a series of U.S.-brokered normalization accords with Arab countries.

Kushner, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump, has overseen the diplomatic push that saw the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco normalize relations with Israel in historic agreements.

As part of the deal, Morocco, which is home to a small but centuries-old Jewish community and has long welcomed Israeli tourists, secured U.S. recognition of its 1975 annexation of the region of Western Sahara, which is not recognized by the United Nations.

Israel has traditionally backed the U.N. position and has not said whether it will join the U.S. in recognizing Moroccan control over the area.

Joining Kushner was the head of Israel’s delegation, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat.

Both men met with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and other top officials.

Speaking to reporters, Kushner described the meetings as “enormously productive.”

“Morocco and Israel are making huge strides on their commitments to resume full diplomatic relations, promote economic cooperation and to reopen their liaison offices very quickly,” he said.

The delegations were expected to restore relations between Israel and Morocco that existed in the 1990s and sign several cooperation agreements, including the establishment of direct flights, said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat.

“The goal is to move the relationship from a low level to full diplomatic relations,” he said. He said there was no firm timeline for this process.

Adam Boehler, chief executive of the U.S. international development and finance corporation, said he expected the visit to yield huge trade benefits by bringing an existing relationship out into the open.

“We’ve been doing a lot of legwork looking at investment in Morocco,” he said. “They’re a gateway to Africa, they’ve been a great ally to the United States, they have a great investment climate. So I think you’re going to see obviously a multi billion dollar memorandum coming out of this but also some individual investments announced.”

Before Israel’s establishment in 1948, Morocco was home to a large Jewish population, many of whose ancestors migrated to North Africa from Spain and Portugal during the Spanish Inquisition.

Today, hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews trace their lineage to Morocco, and a small community of Jews, estimated at several thousand people, continues to live there.

During the 1990s, Israel and Morocco established low-level diplomatic relations, but Morocco closed its representative office in Tel Aviv after the eruption of the second Palestinian “intifada” in 2000, a massive wave of terror attacks during which Palestinians killed over 1,000 Israelis.

Even so, the two countries have maintained good behind-the-scenes contacts, and some 30,000 to 50,000 Israelis continue to visit Morocco each year.

On the tarmac in Israel, Kushner said that he hopes the delegation’s visit will “pave the way for another warm peace between Israel and Morocco,” pointing to the emerging ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Ben-Shabbat, whose family immigrated to Israel from Morocco, said that “history is being written before our eyes.”

Israelis of all backgrounds have celebrated the normalization accords after decades in which their country was shunned by the Arab world. Saudi Arabia, a regional power with close ties to Morocco, has given its tacit support for the normalization accords and could be next.

The agreements, billed as the “Abraham Accords” after the biblical patriarch revered by Jews and Muslims, were a major foreign policy achievement by the Trump administration. President-elect Joe Biden has welcomed the agreements even as he has vowed to pursue different policies in the region, including returning the U.S. to Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

The accords have also contributed to the severe isolation and weakening of the Palestinians by eroding a longstanding Arab consensus that recognition of Israel should only be given in return for concessions in the peace process.

he Trump administration has given unprecedented support to Israel by moving the U.S. Embassy to contested Jerusalem and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which it seized from Syria in the 1967 war.

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