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Morocco-Israel: First flight from Tel Aviv lands in Rabat

By Fadwa Islah
Posted on Wednesday, 23 December 2020 10:36

The American-Israeli delegation led by Jared Kushner, senior advisor to US President Trump, and Meier Ben Shabbat, Israel's National Security Adviser, arriving in Morocco on 22 December 2020 at Rabat-Salé airport. © MAP

Ten days after the recognition by President Trump of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara, an American-Israeli delegation led by his special advisor Jared Kushner, arrived in the kingdom aboard an El Al plane.

Flight LY555 took off on 22 December at 9:30 am from Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport and landed in Rabat a little before 3 pm. On board were senior American and Israeli officials, led by the Special Advisor and son-in-law of President Trump, Jared Kushner.

A visit that comes just over ten days after the American presidential proclamation recognising Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara, and the decision of Mohammed VI to restore diplomatic relations with Israel.

READ MORE Morocco, Israel normalise relations after US-led deal says Trump

This first commercial and official flight between the two countries is full of symbolism. Displaying the flags of Morocco, Israel and the United States, the flight was given the number LY555. A choice which is not insignificant, the number 5 (hamsa in Hebrew, khamsa in Arabic) making it possible, according to traditional beliefs in Morocco as well as within the Moroccan Jewish diaspora living in Israel, to protect oneself from the evil eye, most often by means of a Khmissa (the five fingers of the hand), like the one which adorns the plane which transported the Israeli-American delegation.

The place of arrival is also highly symbolic. It was not at Mohammed V airport in Casablanca, the economic capital of the kingdom, that the Israeli-American delegation landed, but in Rabat. This gives the trip a (very) official character, confirming the resumption of diplomatic relations and direct air links announced on 10 December by President Trump and the communiqué of the royal cabinet.

 

The choice of Rabat is also based on practical considerations. The programme of the visit takes place in the capital, between the Mohammed V mausoleum, the Royal Palace, the primacy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, all located in the administrative capital.

A very special day

Composed of several senior American and Israeli officials, the delegation is led by Jared Kushner, architect of this rapprochement between Tel Aviv and Rabat. The latter is accompanied, on the American side, by the head of the US International Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) and, on the Israeli side, by Meir Ben Shabbat, Israel’s National Security Advisor and Chief of Staff for National Security, as well as by Haim Regev, Deputy Chief of Staff.

Upon arrival at Rabat airport, the delegation was welcomed by local officials, including Mohamed Yacoubi, the wali of Rabat-Salé-Kénitra, and the president of the Rabat-Salé-Kénitra region, Abdelsamad Sekkal.

READ MORE Western Sahara/Morocco: Can US President Biden undo Trump’s deal?

COVID ensured social distancing protocol was followed, so there were no exchanges of handshakes, but the images taken by Moroccan and Israeli television channels are historic and will remain so in the years to come. In them, we can see Meir Ben Shabbat, all smiles for the occasion of this event which, according to his own words, is of great value.

In an interview given to the Arabic-speaking Moroccan newspaper Al Ahdat Al Maghribiya, the Israeli National Security Advisor and Chief of Staff, whose parents are of Moroccan origin, stressed that this trip was a very special event for him.

Beyond its diplomatic dimension, it also has a sentimental value because his father, Chief Rabbi Makhlouf Khalifa, his mother, Aziza, and his older brothers were born in Morocco. This specificity, he points out, has allowed him to grow up with the stories of this family who lived in the kingdom in peace, prosperity and happiness and who never ceased to glorify their country of origin. Like the (almost) million Israelis of Moroccan origin living in Israel who, despite the distance and the diplomatic and political vicissitudes, have kept very strong ties with their country of origin.

Even before the reactivation of diplomatic channels, currently on the agenda, more than 70,000 Moroccans of the Jewish diaspora visited the kingdom every year. The opening of direct flights will increase this number to at least 200,000 tourists, according to the Moroccan Minister of Tourism and Air Transport, Nadia Fettah.

Diplomatic and economic announcements expected

According to the agreed programme, the delegation will stay in Morocco for one day and return to Israel on Wednesday by noon at the latest. Although the official programme of the visit has not yet been communicated, several Israeli and Moroccan media sources first mention a visit to the Mohammed V mausoleum, where Kings Mohammed V and Hassan II are buried; two kings of importance in the Judeo-Moroccan imagination. The first one protected the Moroccan Jewish community against the French Vichy regime during the Second World War. The second one throughout much of his reign, was the intermediary of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

The delegation will thus pay homage to the tomb of King Mohammed VI’s father and grandfather, before being received by the sovereign at the Royal Palace in Rabat where a dinner will be offered in his honour, according to Reuters.

The delegation has also scheduled a series of official meetings with Moroccan officials, including a meeting between Ben Shabbat and the head of the Islamist government, Saadeddine El Othmani, which may be held at the headquarters of the primacy, adjacent to the Royal Palace.

READ MORE Morocco ambivalent on Trump’s “Deal of the Century”

Beyond the symbolism of this first commercial flight between Tel Aviv and Rabat, and the official reception of senior Israeli officials by the highest authorities of the kingdom, this visit will be an opportunity to sign several partnerships and agreements in the diplomatic, political, security and especially economic fields.

An official announcement of the reopening of diplomatic channels between the two countries – the liaison offices have been closed since 2002 – will be on the agenda, according to our sources.

This “historic” visit, as Jared Kushner calls it, is thus an official consecration of the announcements made on 10 December by American President Donald Trump and the royal cabinet on the resumption of diplomatic ties between Morocco and Israel.

It will also be an opportunity for the United States to solemnly confirm its recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara. According to the initial information available to us, most of the economic announcements on the American side will concern investments to be made in the southern provinces. These investments will be overseen by the future American consulate which will open in Dakhla, located in the disputed territories.