Morocco Considers U.S. Proposal to Send Peacekeeping Troops to Gaza

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A Risky Move for the Arabs

Morocco Considers U.S. Proposal to Send Peacekeeping Troops to Gaza
Moroccan authorities view the Washington plan favorably for post-Israeli offensive Gaza, hoping to strengthen ties with the superpower and, incidentally, with Israel.

By Ignacio Cembrero

Moroccan, Egyptian, and Emirati soldiers patrolling the Gaza Strip as part of a peacekeeping operation after the war? The idea is back on the table for when Israel ends its offensive against the Palestinian movement Hamas, which began more than seven months ago.

President Joe Biden’s administration is encouraging three Arab countries (Morocco, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates) to form a peacekeeping force to be deployed in Gaza once the war is over, as revealed last Wednesday by the Financial Times. Despite the risks, the proposal is not far-fetched for one of the designated countries, Morocco, whose authorities view Washington’s plan favorably to strengthen ties with the superpower and, incidentally, with Israel. Both could be allies in the conflict against the Polisario Front and, ultimately, against Algeria.

In fact, U.S. efforts began in late March, following a visit to Washington by Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who was receptive to the idea of such a multinational force. « Gaza governance by Palestinian entities other than Hamas, accompanied by international actors, is in Israel’s interest, » Gallant explained on television last Wednesday.

Initially, discussions included two other countries—Saudi Arabia and Bahrain—but both quickly refused to participate. Jordan was not approached because the majority of its population is of Palestinian origin.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken partially confirmed on CBS television on Sunday that the project was in the works. « We have been working for many, many weeks to develop a credible plan for security, governance, and reconstruction [of Gaza] with Arab states and other allies, » he explained.

The idea was first floated in October by one of Gallant’s predecessors, Labor party member Ehud Barak, who served as both Prime Minister and Defense Minister. Barak suggested that an Arab military contingent be tasked with maintaining peace in an interview with The Economist.

Plan for « After » the Invasion

The first problem facing the Biden Administration in implementing its proposal is that neither the Israeli government nor the small war cabinet seems to have a clear plan for Gaza once the invasion ends.

« We will probably have to have some form of civil government, a civil administration, by Gazans who are not committed to our destruction, possibly, I think, with the help of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other countries that I think want to see stability and peace, » Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last Friday in an interview with a U.S. television station. However, he added, « We will continue to act [in Gaza] against the remnants of the terrorist army. »

Netanyahu was immediately responded to by UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. « The UAE rejects involvement in a plan that covers Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip, » he wrote on the social media platform X. « The UAE emphasizes that when a Palestinian government is formed that meets the hopes of the brotherly Palestinian people and enjoys territorial integrity, powers, and independence, our state will be fully ready to provide any kind of support to that government, » he concluded.

His statement summarizes the position of the Arab countries consulted by the U.S. They refuse to set foot in Gaza while Israel is there to avoid being labeled as « accomplices of the aggressor. » They also seek the approval of the Palestinian Authority, headed by Mahmoud Abbas from Ramallah (West Bank). The backbone of the Palestinian Authority is Fatah, the party expelled from Gaza by force by Hamas in 2007.

Lastly, they want their potential deployment in Gaza as a peacekeeping force to be accompanied by a gesture from the U.S., and ideally from the entire West, towards the Palestinians, such as the recognition of their state within the borders of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, according to a diplomatic source.

Spain is exploring, along with Ireland, taking the step of recognition, although there is no date yet, together with another European country, Slovenia. Half a dozen European Union countries took this initiative years ago, but only one, Sweden, did so while already a member of the European club. When Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares was in Washington on Friday, his counterpart, Antony Blinken, made it clear that the U.S. would not follow these examples.

For the three Arab capitals engaged in discussions with Washington, a potential deployment of their forces in Gaza is risky. First, they will likely face criticism from Tehran or Algiers for playing into Israel’s hands. Second, a serious incident with the Gazan civilian population or a clash with surviving Hamas militants could provoke public outrage in Egypt and Morocco.

Risks: Social Protests

Morocco is the Arab country that has so far seen the most demonstrations of solidarity with Palestine, small ones on Fridays after mosque prayers, and large ones, sometimes with hundreds of thousands of participants, on weekends in Casablanca or Rabat. These demonstrations freely chanted slogans against the « normalization » between Israel and Morocco.

When leftist or Islamist activists criticized this « normalization, » meaning the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in December 2020, on social media, they were repressed. They were tried and convicted.

The most recent case was in early April, involving Abderrahman Zankad, a member of the non-violent Islamist movement Justice and Charity, who criticized not only Moroccan authorities but also those of all Arab countries that established relations with Israel. A court in Mohammedia sentenced him to five years for « offenses against the king, » despite his argument that his messages were not directed against King Mohammed VI. It is the monarch who handles Morocco’s foreign policy.

Despite the risks and the fact that it is still a very embryonic plan, accepting the White House’s request to join the peacekeeping operation will be beneficial for Morocco’s interests, according to opinions in Rabat. Moroccan press highlighted this potential offer from Washington on their front pages, noting that it would strengthen ties with the superpower and Israel, and garner diplomatic support and military cooperation in the low-intensity war against the Polisario Front and, indirectly, Algeria.

The close relationship that Rabat and Tel Aviv have forged was recently demonstrated by two facts. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute noted in its latest report that in 2023 Israel became the third-largest arms supplier to Morocco, accounting for 11% of its purchases. The primary supplier remains the U.S.

In mid-March, Morocco became the first country authorized by the Israeli military to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza by land, through the Kerem Shalom crossing. It introduced 40 tons of aid that had previously arrived at Ben Gurion Airport. The Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs highlighted this in a statement. Just before, on March 12, Morocco participated for the first time in airlifting aid.

El Confidencial, 17/05/2024

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