Scoop: Embassies are "natural next step," Moroccan king tells Netanyahu
Morocco went most of the way to normalizing relations with Israel last month, but only committed to opening liaison offices, rather than embassies.
Why it matters: That decision led to speculation that Morocco was waiting to see if the Biden administration would roll back Trump's recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara before going all the way with Israel. It also disappointed Netanyahu, who hoped Morocco would commit to full embassies, according to a senior Israeli official.
Driving the news: Morocco's King Mohammed VI told Netanyahu in a call last week that he was committed to opening embassies as part of the next phase of the process, Israeli officials briefed on the call tell me.
- Mohammed also responded positively when Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat raised the embassy issue in a meeting in Rabat two weeks ago, which was also attended by Jared Kushner, Israeli officials say.
- An Israeli official added that normalization was "moving very fast" and would ultimately include embassies. Netanyahu's office declined to comment for this story.
The state of play: An Israeli delegation is visiting Rabat this week to inspect Israel's former liaison office, which was shut down 20 years ago but is still owned by the Israeli government, Israeli officials tell me.
- Morocco also held onto its property in Tel Aviv, and a Moroccan delegation made a similar visit there last week to see if the office could be reopened on a short timetable.
- Morocco and Israel also committed in their joint statement to start direct flights and to resume contacts at all levels of government. Several phone calls between Israeli and Moroccan ministers have since taken place.
What’s next: Israeli officials say the plan is for both sides to open liaison offices as soon as next week, in temporary locations if necessary.
- The U.S. also announced it would open a consulate in Dakhla in Western Sahara. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East affairs David Schenker will visit Morocco next week to discuss those plans, the state department announced.
Worth noting: Sudan formally joined the Abraham accords on Wednesday, signing onto the declaration the UAE and Bahrain signed in September at the White House. From the U.S. side, the declaration was signed by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who visited Khartoum today.