Morocco in Gaza: An international profile

Alberto Bueno

5 mins - 18 de Marzo de 2024, 07:00

Israel’s bloody war against Hamas is causing a humanitarian catastrophe of historic proportions, in addition to the very high number of civilian casualties. Responding to the resulting humanitarian insecurity has become an urgent necessity, to which international humanitarian agencies of the United Nations, non-governmental organisations, and, more recently, the United States and European countries, along with the European Union itself, are trying to respond. 

These efforts join the actions of Arab countries such as Bahrain, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Oman, and Qatar. Morocco has been added to this list of donors in recent days. This is not the first time Morocco has offered humanitarian aid: last October, it transported more than 20 tonnes of aid through the Rafah crossing on the Palestinian-Egyptian border. This time, however, Morocco has sent forty tonnes of basic necessities to Gaza, which have arrived by road to the Gaza Strip itself – after disembarking at Tel Aviv airport. As has been emphasised in the press, the fact that this was done by land through Israeli territory is a novelty. 

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Apart from being in accordance with a right recognised by the international community – it serves as a reminder that preventing the arrival of humanitarian aid can constitute a war crime – Morocco’s decision signals relevant new dynamics in the international political situation and the current phase of war in the Middle East.

Indeed, the war shows the movements of change and rupture in the strained foreign policies of states, both in the West and in the Arab world, as well as the difficult domestic balances to be maintained and the future opportunities for even a temporary or partial solution to the conflict. The position of the Alawite state is complex: Morocco was one of the signatories to the so-called Abraham Accords: agreements signed by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco as part of a broader US-sponsored shift by Israel during the Trump administration to normalise and improve its precarious diplomatic and trade relations with the Arab-Muslim world. The mutual rapprochements culminated in Israel’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara and, in reciprocity, the consequent increased Moroccan diplomatic representation in Tel Aviv, as well as, in general terms, an intensification of economic, commercial, technological, or military relations between the two countries.

This decision was not, and is not, free of tensions due to the separation between a society – as in the rest of the Arab world – that is largely favourable to the cause of Palestine and non-recognition of the State of Israel, and a government that seeks to maximise its national interests. Likewise, among the different Arab governments, where these agreements have been a major point of friction between detractors and supporters of this geopolitical reorientation. Morocco is a good example of these difficulties.

Undoubtedly, Hamas’ barbaric attack on Israel and the brutal and massive Israeli response have forced an alteration of past considerations. In this sense, humanitarian aid reflects this change in Moroccan foreign policy, which is bound to paralyse, if not rectify, the course of action taken towards Israel. A situation in which other Arab countries, not just the signatories of these agreements, find themselves, in fact, due to governments’ reluctant positions towards greater engagement with the Palestinian cause.

This decision by Mohammed VI, as a leading actor in the Alawite regime’s foreign policy, should make one think about the possibility of mediation by other international actors, beyond the United States and the European Union. For example, the king chairs the Al Quds Committee – an international intergovernmental body linked to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation whose main objective is to support the Palestinian cause from a cultural, social and humanitarian perspective – which can be a factor of legitimacy. In this sense, it can enjoy this modest position while enjoying a certain legitimacy vis-à-vis Israel: it is hard to understand how Morocco could have had this freedom of transit in Israel to reach Gaza by land if it did not.

Similar positions could be affirmed by other Arab actors who share this same profile, whose impulse should be directed towards: in the short term, alleviating the catastrophic effects of the war and promoting a ceasefire as a first step towards a definitive end to military operations; in the medium term, mediation and/or post-conflict management both in the Gaza Strip itself and in broader terms with the Israeli-Palestinian situation. 

7 October marked a point of no return in the course of this long war, which is key to stability and peace in the region. With a certain risk of escalation, the crisis is critical. The Hamas attacks and Israel’s reaction place the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a very different point from the pre-7 October scenario. It is not the same humanitarian scenario, nor is it the same at the political level.  

This reality means that it is actors from the so-called “global south” who, together with the United Nations, should and can play a more significant role. It cannot be overlooked that the credibility of the United States and many EU states has been seriously damaged in the eyes of the Palestinian people and a large part of Arab society. Nor does Benjamin Netanyahu’s government recognise the legitimacy of many classical actors. Therefore, with Europe focused on the war in Ukraine and speculation on the horizon about a change in the White House, it seems clear that, with better or worse fortune, other profiles will have to take the lead.
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