Israel, Morocco establish formal ties

September 02, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

JERUSALEM -- Israel and Morocco established low-level diplomatic relations yesterday, making the North African kingdom the second Arab nation after Egypt to have formal ties with the Jewish state.

After 20 years of contacts that began clandestinely and grew to open visits to Morocco by Israeli ministers, the two countries agreed to establish liaison offices, and Israeli officials predicted a rapid broadening of ties, including expanded trade, direct airline service and increased tourism.

"It's a first step, an opening of the door, and I imagine there will be a continuation," said Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who as prime minister had visited Morocco's King Hassan II in 1986 and who negotiated the agreement over the past three months. "I assume this will influence other countries, and we are working in that direction."

Although expected since Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin stopped in Morocco en route home from signing the peace accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington a year ago, yesterday's move, nonetheless, constituted another breakthrough in the Middle East peace process.

Mr. Peres called it "the opening of a regional relationship," different from Israel's efforts to make peace with its immediate Arab neighbors and part of an emerging effort to develop economic ties across the whole of the Middle East.

Under the agreement, Israel will open a liaison office -- an embassy in all but name -- in Rabat, the Moroccan capital; Morocco will open a similar diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv, where most countries maintain their embassies. Morocco also will establish a liaison office with the new Palestinian Authority in Gaza City.

No dates were mentioned. An Israeli official said it might take a few months before the offices are opened.

"I would rather have diplomatic relations immediately, but we must recognize the fact that patience sometimes pays off," Mr. Rabin said.

Mr. Peres said the development was made possible by progress in Israel's negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization and by Morocco's desire to promote regional economic cooperation.

King Hassan will serve as host of a major economic conference, the first with extensive Israeli and Arab participation, in Casablanca at the end of October. More than 1,000 political leaders and senior business executives are expected to participate in the session, organized by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum and the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations.

King Hassan told Mr. Peres in a June visit that he was not ready for full diplomatic relations, saying that they could be achieved only step by step and urging Israel to make more progress in peace negotiations with Syria and Lebanon.

Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, remains the only Arab state with full diplomatic relations with the 46-year-old Jewish state. Jordan signed an accord with Israel July 28, ending the state of war between them and pledging to conclude a peace treaty.

Israel had hoped that Morocco and other moderate Arab and Muslim states, including Tunisia, would quickly establish ties after the historic peace accord with the PLO last September. But such moves became politically difficult because of the slowness in the movement toward Palestinian autonomy in the Gaza Strip, the stalemate in negotiations with Syria and the massacre of 29 Palestinians by a Jewish settler while they prayed at a West Bank mosque six months ago.

King Hassan has long urged other Arab leaders to accept Israel's existence.

In recent years, the relationship between Israel and Morocco had become increasingly open.

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