Morocco is not rushing towards normalisation with Israel

It is possible that since this Haaretz piece by Zvi Barel was published  in June the Israeli emissary David Govrin has found the right offices for the Israeli mission in Rabat. But the euphoria greeting the first commercial flights from Tel Aviv to Marrakesh should not obscure the fact that Morocco is reluctant to open a fully-fledged embassy in Israel.  While Morocco will welcome Israeli tourists, anti-normalisation is a powerful force.

David Govrin, Israel’s head of mission (Photo: Environmental Protection Ministry)

It’s not fun to be the official emissary of Israel in Morocco. The veteran diplomat David Govrin, who is head of the mission, has been having a hard time finding an appropriate place for its offices. Six months after he was appointed to the job, the mission is still operating out of a hotel in the capital of Rabat.

Landlords have refused to rent it space in the kind of residential building Govrin is looking for. The government of Morocco has proposed a building far from the center of the city where Israel used to have an office, but Israel rejected the offer, saying it wanted the mission to be in the diplomatic quarter with other embassies, on the assumption that the mission will one day become a full-fledged embassy.

On Facebook and Twitter, there are accounts called “Get rid of the Israeli emissary.” Pictures of the Temple Mount adorn Twitter accounts, one of which declares “normalization is treason and an unforgivable crime. To our great misfortune, our country has chosen to normalize ties with murderers for personal reasons.”

Visits to Israel by Moroccan cabinet ministers that had been planned before the violence in Jerusalem and the Gaza fighting have been postponed or canceled. Local soccer teams were directed to cancel games with Israeli teams and last month protests were staged amid chants, “The nation wants to end normalization.”

Bilateral trade and other agreements between companies and institutions are being implemented at a snail’s pace, which Israeli officials believe is intentional on Morocco’s part.

“Morocco is a rising economic star in need of Israeli technology, and Israeli companies have a lot to offer. But it seems that politics is charging a price. The Moroccan government isn’t rushing to turn normalization agreements that were signed last December into fact,” an official handling the trade agreements told Haaretz.

Direct flights between the two countries are scheduled to begin in July, but the Israeli carrier Israir still doesn’t know how many weekly flights it will be allowed to fly. An average of about 50,000 Israeli tourists visit Morocco every year, and the Moroccan Tourism Ministry hopes the number will quadruple. But even if that target is reached, Israelis will only account for 1.5% of Morocco’s total tourist arrivals before the coronavirus.

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