Israel announced Monday it was recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, joining the United States as the only countries to acknowledge the kingdom’s annexation of the disputed North African territory.
The announcement came shortly after Morocco’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying King Mohammed VI had received a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recognizing Morocco’s claim over the territory.
Netanyahu’s office later confirmed the announcement. Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said recognition of Western Sahara as Moroccan territory “will strengthen relations between the countries and the nations” and advance regional stability.
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Israel and Morocco reestablished diplomatic relations as part of the “Abraham Accords” brokered by former President Donald Trump between Israel and Arab states. The two countries had low-level diplomatic ties in the 1990s that were disrupted by the Palestinian uprising that began in 2000.
In exchange for Morocco normalizing relations with Israel, the Trump administration promised in December 2020 to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
The announcement upset decades of U.S. policy and international consensus that Western Sahara’s status should be settled by a U.N. referendum.
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Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony believed to have considerable offshore oil deposits and mineral resources, in 1975, sparking a conflict with the pro-independence Polisario Front.
The U.N. brokered a 1991 cease-fire and established a peacekeeping mission to monitor the truce and help prepare a referendum on the territory’s future. Disagreements over who is eligible to vote have prevented that vote from taking place.
The Polisario Front renewed armed conflict in 2020, ending a 29-year truce.
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Mounting tensions have reverberated across borders to Morocco’s neighbor Algeria, which broke diplomatic ties with Rabat in 2021. The enmity has escalated between the two nations, which both share allies in the West, the Middle East and elsewhere.