The big news this week is that Morocco announced its agreement to join a growing list of Arab countries in announcing normalization of ties with Israel. Normalization, of course, is diplomatic speak for establishing relations for countries to engage in political, economic, consular, security, technological, and other bilateral activities. It’s what responsible, mature nations do.
Kudos to Morocco’s King Mohammed VI for taking this step, in step with the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan. And, this reflects well on the Trump administration for its pulling of partners together and for the Israelis in finding and building friendly ties in the Arab world.
There is speculation that at some point, Saudi Arabia might join the crowd, and I personally believe the Qataris nearly ready to formalize their longstanding Israeli engagement, should Saudi Arabia and UAE end their petty embargo of the small emirate, one of the United States’ most important regional allies. Israel needs regional friends, so this is a very positive development for all involved. As this effort gains steam, though, we should be mindful of the costs.
For Sudan, it’s all about money. The current Sudanese government inherited the baggage of its forebear’s dalliances with terrorists, and blood money payback dues of $335 million. Plus, the country has to settle its debts if it hopes to get on its feet. The United States had to remove its nearly thirty year designation of the country as a state sponsor of terrorism to enable provisions of a one billion dollar loan to the World Bank to hopefully start obtaining the funding needed for the country’s relief from poor management. Good grief! Once we get Sudan to the starting point of being able to receive outside assistance, then a review of the nearly $60 billion in external debt can start. Make no mistake, brokering Sudanese-Israeli friendship is symbolically important, but prohibitively expensive. Plus, formalizing ties will also require legislative approval from Sudan’s National Assembly members, likely an uphill battle with many who might view this arrangement as high dollar bribery.
Morocco also comes with baggage. In brokering the arrangement, President Trump reportedly agreed to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, which has long been supported by the Algerian backed Polisario Front. This is a very messy, and potentially violent proposition, already decried vehemently by the Polisario leadership and a number of seasoned western diplomats. Let’s be clear-eyed about the ground reality here: Western Sahara could quickly re-descend into a Moroccan-Algerian proxy war with serious security ramifications across the Magreb, including in conflicts in Libya, Mali and Niger.
Of course, in this mix, is the feeble to nonexistent response of the Palestinians, many of whom still hold out for a noble rescuer who might view their hopeless plight as unjust and propose a solution which might somehow derail the Zionists’ manifest destiny. Such hope has been extended to brokering efforts by the United States, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Countries, and the United Nations, to no end. It may be that established, broader Arab diplomatic ties with Israel might allow for a revisit of the Arab Peace Initiative, but so far that seems unlikely.
The Abraham Accords are worthy pursuits; Abraham would want all of his sons to get along. Though we genuinely celebrate the symbolic importance and the practicality of establishing Israeli-Arab ties, we should realize that without depth and foundation, these superfluous ties can quickly unravel. It’s not the Americans or Israelis who are at risk, but Arab communities and their leaders. Not an ideal scenario as we currently mark the tenth anniversary of the Arab Spring. And, while we commend the busy efforts of the Trump Administration, we should be mindful that without substance, these could falter quickly, turning into mere Pyrrhic victories, or perhaps, Parthian shots as the team tries to score points en route to its exit.