The historic Abraham Accords have been a singular foreign policy success of the outgoing Trump administration. Last week, a fourth Arab country — the Kingdom of Morocco — joined the list of Arab states willing to normalize relations with the State of Israel. While Morocco may not be the shiniest, richest jewel added to the Abraham Accords, it is arguably the most significant.
With its large population and long history, Morocco was also once a major Jewish population center. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews trace their lineage to Morocco. And Morocco considers Israel to be its second-largest diaspora, after France. About 2,000 Jews remain in Morocco.
The historic Abraham Accords, which have also brought United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan into normalization agreements with Israel, has changed the Middle East in ways most could not have predicted four years ago. And it has been for the better.
As might be expected, however, previous Abraham Accord agreements have featured more than simply the establishment of two-way ties between a formerly “hostile” Arab state and Israel. Thus, for example, the Trump administration and United Arab Emirates used the agreement to support arms sales to the Gulf states. Similarly, the Trump administration agreed to remove Sudan from the list of countries supporting terror as part of the deal for Sudan to establish relations with Israel.
The horse-trading for Morocco was different, and it raises questions. In exchange for Morocco entering the Accords, the Trump administration reversed longstanding American policy and recognized Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara — a disputed territory that was a Spanish colony until 1975, and whose residents have dreams of an independent state. Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara is not recognized by the United Nations, the African Union or any of Morocco’s neighbors. And it wasn’t recognized by the United States, until last week.
That policy change caught much of Washington by surprise, including Sen. James M. Inhofe (R—Okla.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and a supporter of the Western Sahara’s Algerian-backed separatists. In comments on the Senate floor, Inhofe said: “He [Trump] could have made this deal without trading away the rights of this voiceless people.”
Others were equally puzzled. As summarized by Borzou Daragh of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs: “The United States is recognizing Moroccan claims over the disputed territory of Western Sahara and weighing in on one of the longest-running frozen conflicts in the world in exchange for Rabat committing to normalize relations with a country with which it has never been at war and with which it has had secret relations for decades. Israeli passport holders have been able to visit Morocco for years, obtaining visas on arrival.”
Since the Abraham Accords offer such clear benefits for Morocco and Israel, we wonder why it was necessary for the Trump team to upend established Western Sahara policy and thrust the U.S. into an international contest in which it has little interest.