By Dan Williams and Ahmed Eljechtimi
JERUSALEM/RABAT (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser visited Rabat on Wednesday as his government mulls a possible announcement of recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over disputed Western Sahara, officials said.
Morocco considers Western Sahara its own but the Algeria-backed Polisario front demands an independent state there. In 2020, then-U.S. President Donald Trump recognised Morocco’s rule over the territory in return for its partial upgrade of relations with Israel.
A diplomatic source told Reuters Israel’s Western Sahara move could lead to a full upgrade of its diplomatic ties with Rabat, with their diplomatic missions, currently designated liaison offices, becoming embassies and a free-trade pact possible down the line.
Israel’s foreign ministry declined comment on the issue. But a source in Netanyahu’s cabinet acknowledged it was being discussed within the country’s National Security Council (NSC).
The NSC’s head, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, met Moroccan foreign minister Nasser Bourita on Wednesday, Morocco’s foreign ministry said without offering further details.
The head of Israel’s diplomatic mission in Rabat said on Tuesday Israeli and Moroccan foreign ministries were discussing Western Sahara and “the final decision will be a decision made by both our ministers.”
Winning support for its stand on Western Sahara is the ultimate goal of Moroccan diplomacy, which has been emboldened by Trump’s recognition and the ensuing support of Western powers, such as former occupier Spain, for its autonomy plan.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said on Wednesday that he and counterparts from Abraham Accords countries would convene in Morocco “within weeks”.
Speaking on Israel’s Kan radio, he did not provide a date or venue for the so-called “Negev Forum” after the Israeli desert where it first convened last year.
At that meeting, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said: “I hope we will meet very soon in a different desert but with the same spirit.”
Moroccan media reported a possible plan to reconvene in the Western Sahara town of Dakhla. Rabat has yet to provide details on the location or timing of the event.
Holding it in coastal Dakhla could pose a challenge for Washington, which has never followed through on Trump’s pledge to open a U.S. consulate in Western Sahara.
Twenty-eight other countries have done so, in Dakhla or the city of Laayoune, in what Morocco sees as tangible support for its Western Saharan rule. Those countries include United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, both Abraham Accords signatories. Other Gulf countries fully back Morocco’s sovereignty claim.
(Reporting by Dan Williams and Ahmed Eljechtimi; Editing by Christina Fincher)
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