x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Morocco's king refuses to meet Israeli president

The Israeli president, Shimon Peres, has cancelled a trip to Morocco next week after King Mohamed VI refused to meet him, citing stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

RABAT // The Israeli president, Shimon Peres, has cancelled a trip to Morocco next week after King Mohamed VI refused to meet him, citing stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Mr Peres was to address a World Economic Forum conference in Marrakech and had hoped to meet the king as well.

The king informed Mr Peres that the timing for such a meeting was not right, the Associated Press reported an aide to the Israeli president as saying. Moroccan officials could not be reached for comment.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been frozen since September 26, when a 10-month Israeli moratorium on settlement of the West Bank expired. Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has refused further talks until the moratorium is renewed.

Israel's West Bank settlements have been condemned by Morocco, traditionally a major mediator in Arab-Israeli relations.

"Morocco out of all the Arab states has maintained the closest links with Israel," said Michael Willis, a professor of Moroccan and Mediterranean studies at Oxford University in England. While a meeting between King Mohamed and Mr Peres "would probably look good outside the Arab world, inside the Arab world it wouldn't be well received," he said.

While Morocco and Israel have never established full relations, Israeli officials have visited Morocco in recent decades. And many Israelis trace their roots to Morocco.

In the 1970s, King Hassan II made his country a meeting ground for Israeli and Arab officials. In 1977, the Israeli general Moshe Dayan visited Morocco to meet King Hassan secretly. He toured Marrakech wearing a wig, dark glasses and a false moustache. Later that year, Mr Dayan began meetings in Morocco with Egyptian officials that led to Egypt becoming the first Arab country to recognise Israel, in 1979.

From 1994, Morocco and Israel maintained liaison offices in their respective capitals. The offices closed after the second Palestinian Intifada broke out in 2000.

Nevertheless, low-level contact between the countries has continued, Prof Willis said.

He said Morocco has increasingly focused on building relations with Europe and the US since Mohamed VI took over for his father, Hassan II, who died in 1999. "Mohamed VI seems to have pulled back from playing the active role his father played in the Middle East," Prof Willis said. "I think he's of the view that there hasn't been progress."

 

foreign.desk@thenational.ae