Israel-Morocco relations hang on Western Sahara recognition

Israel linked its pending decision on recognising Moroccan claim on Western Sahara to Morocco hosting a postponed forum of foreign ministers involved in a U.S.-sponsored regional normalisation drive.
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen talks during a news conference with Cyprus Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus March 31, 2023.
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen talks during a news conference with Cyprus Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus March 31, 2023. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel linked on Monday its pending decision on recognising the Moroccan claim on Western Sahara to Morocco hosting a repeatedly postponed forum of foreign ministers involved in a U.S.-sponsored regional normalisation drive.

Morocco upgraded ties with Israel in 2020, encouraged by then U.S. President Donald Trump, who recognised Rabat's rule over Western Sahara, where the Algeria-backed Polisario Front demands an independent state. Trump's successor, President Joe Biden, has not followed through by opening a consulate there, however.

Diplomatic sources have said that Morocco could establish full relations with Israel - with their current mid-level diplomatic missions repurposed as embassies - in exchange for Israeli recognition of Morocco's claim.

But Morocco, citing Israeli policies on the Palestinians, last month postponed a so-called Negev Forum of Israel and Arab states, which it had been due to convene.

Asked at a briefing to foreign media what Israel sought in return for a recognition of Western Sahara as Moroccan, and whether it planned to open a consulate in the territory, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen linked a decision to the conference.

"We are right now working in regards to this issue and our plan is to have our final decision in the Negev Forum," he told reporters, adding that he expected the Moroccan-hosted event to take place in September or October.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Peter Graff)

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