Sleeping with the enemy

Morocco’s attempts to normalise relations with Israel will upset many in the Arab world.

Muhammed VI is due to meet the Israeli foreign minister in Rabat
Muhammed VI is due to meet the Israeli foreign minister in Rabat

Israeli Foreign Minister Sylvan Shalom’s upcoming visit to Rabat will be seen by some as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause.

He is due to have talks with King Muhammad VI, and is expected to discuss the opening of liaison offices in Tel Aviv and Rabat.

With the Palestinian peace process in tatters, critics say this is not the time to be cosying up to Israel – whatever the economic benefits.

However, if Morocco does formalise relations with the Jewish State it will certainly not be the first Arab country to do so.

When Egypt signed a formal treaty with Israel in 1978, it was the first Arab nation to even talk to Israel.


The terms of the treaty required both countries to stop all hostile activity and demilitarise the Sinai.

Other Arab nations, especially the Palestinians, saw Egypt’s agreement as a stab in the back, leaving them weaker and with less bargaining leverage against Israel.

Without Egypt, the “united Arab front” had no credibility.

Soon after Egypt’s President Sadat became isolated in the Arab world and increasingly unpopular at home.

Sharon may have more friends in
the Arab world than he thinks 

These conditions led to his assassination by opposition activists in 1981.

Peace treaty

But despite the outcry that greeted Sadat’s decision, Jordan followed Egypt’s lead in 1994 by signing a formal peace treaty with its neighbour.

Jordan and Israel proceeded to exchange embassies, and King Hussein took to calling Palestinian Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin “my close personal friend”.

The most recent Arab state to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel is Mauritania.

Situated at the farthest corner of the Arab world, the largely arid country had hardly ever hit the headlines before signing the 1999 agreement.

The decision came as a major surprise because while other Arab countries were always in the limelight, Mauritania had remained largely out of focus.


But while Egypt, Jordan and Mauritania are still the only Arab states to have formal treaties with Israel, they have definitely set a trend. 

“Normalisation with Israel has just been a disaster for the Palestinians … don’t they(Arab states) realise the Palestinians are being assassinated on a daily basis.”

Azzam Tamimi
Palestinian academic

Other Arab countries such as Qatar, Morocco and Tunisia may not have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, but they have had low-level ties for years.

However, Azzam Tamimi, a Palestinian academic, says these countries are acting against the will of their peoples.

“This trend has happened purely because of pressure by the Americans. They are telling these countries if the Palestinians are making peace with the Israelis then what are you waiting for?

“But more broadly, it is all tied to loans and financial inducements from the Americans. A country like Mauritania might think it has no choice.”


And Tamimi says the fact that nobody has bothered to canvas Arab opinion is indicative of the lack of democracy in the Arab world.

He added: “Normalisation with Israel has just been a disaster for the Palestinians – they have got nothing from it whatsoever. At least these Arab states could have waited until the Palestinian refugees had returned or the occupation was over.

“Don’t they realise the Palestinians are being assassinated on a daily basis?”

Israel likes to portray itself as a tiny island surrounded by a huge, hostile sea of Arab states.

But judging by the number of Arab countries queueing up to make friends, it may be more popular than it thinks. 

Source : Al Jazeera

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