Photo Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO
Israel’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and senior adviser to the US president, Jared Kushner with Moroccan King Mohammed VI at the royal palace in Rabat.

A joint Israeli-American delegation met with senior officials in Morocco on Tuesday, including King Mohammed VI, as part of a move to normalize relations between Israel and Morocco.

Israel’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and senior adviser to the U.S. president Jared Kushner, who led their countries’ respective delegations, arrived in Rabat o Tuesday afternoon, where they first visited the mausoleum on King Mohammad V, then traveled to the royal palace to meet with the current king and other officials.

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Following the meeting, Ben-Shabbat, Kushner and Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita signed a trilateral declaration with included an obligation to “resume full official contacts between Israeli and Moroccan counterparts” by the end of next month.

As part of the resumption of ties, both countries will move immediately to reopen diplomatic offices and activate economic cooperation between them. Prior to the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, the two countries had liaison offices in Rabat and Tel Aviv.

Earlier this month, Morocco became the third Arab country to normalize ties with Israel, following the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in September. Sudan has also announced plans to normalize ties but has yet to sign any agreements.

In addition to the liaison offices, Israel and Morocco also signed other memorandums of understanding on topics including civil aviation, water resources, finance and visa requirements.

The United States and Morocco also signed two memoranda of understanding, with a promised U.S. investment of $4 billion in the country. Kushner also promised that the U.S. would open a consulate in Dakhla in Western Sahara. As part of the normalization agreement, the U.S. recognized Morocco’s claims over the disputed territory, which had been a decades-long goal of Morocco.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who did not travel with the delegation, earlier remarked that the U.S.-Israeli delegation is “creating a new era of peace, prosperity and hope for our region, for our peoples and for our future. We are changing the future of the two peoples, who are indeed marvelously linked. Nevertheless, the direct flights, the opening of offices and everything that will follow symbolizes an era of wonderful peace.”

Ben-Shabbat, who is of Moroccan heritage, said relations with Morocco “are especially significant, beyond the diplomatic and economic aspects.”

“Many Israeli citizens, members of the Moroccan community, have longed for this moment. Like myself, many from the second and third generation of olim from Morocco, who live in Israel, uphold—and are continuing—the heritage of our forefathers.”

Home to one of the Jewish Diaspora’s oldest Jewish communities, Jews first settled in Morocco when it was part of the Roman Empire. The country later became a haven for Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition.

By the mid-20th century, the Moroccan Jewish community stood at around 250,000 to 300,000—one of the largest in the Middle East. But like every other Arab state, Morocco lost most of its ancient Jewish community amid the upheaval over the creation of Israel and the subsequent Arab-Israeli wars.

Despite its Jewish population decreasing to 3,000, Morocco has maintained warm ties with Moroccan Jews abroad, with tens of thousands of Jews from Israel and elsewhere regularly visiting as tourists. Some 700,000 Israelis are of Moroccan origin.

In recent years, Morocco has moved to restore its Jewish heritage sites. In 2015, it announced plans to revitalize the ancient Jewish quarter of Marrakech. Earlier this month, Morocco said it would add Jewish history and culture to its school curriculum.

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