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Normalisation of with Israel ‘not on agenda’: Tunisian PM

TUNIS, Tunisia: Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi says his country has no intention of following in Morocco’s footsteps and normalise ties with Israel.

In an interview with a French broadcaster, Mechichi said: “For Tunisia, the question is not on the agenda,” but insisted it nevertheless respected the kingdom’s choice.

“Every country has its own reality, its own truth and its own diplomacy, which it considers best for its people,” Mechichi said. “We respect Morocco’s choice, Morocco is a sister country that we love very much.”

Morocco last week became the fourth Arab state this year, after the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, to agree to normalise relations with Israel.

US President Donald Trump, in turn, backed Morocco’s contested sovereignty over Western Sahara, where the kingdom has fought as a secessionist movement since 1975 when Spain withdrew from the territory.

Western Sahara has been on the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories, a stance also taken by the African Union, the International Court of Justice, as well as the European Union.

The announcement was met with a mixed reaction in Morocco where authorities have allowed gatherings in support of the agreement but banned smaller demonstrations denouncing the deal.

Abdessamad Fathi, president of the Moroccan Instance for the Support of Ummah Affairs, a group affiliated with the outlawed Al Adl Wal Ihsane movement, said on Facebook that authorities’ decision to ban sit-in is an indication that normalizing relations with Israel is “imposed on Moroccans” after authorities disperse demonstrators outside parliament on Monday.

In his comments, Mechichi said he had not been approached by the Trump administration about the issue.

Neighbouring Algeria took a less charitable view of the deal struck with archrival Morocco.

Algeria, which backs the Polisario Front independence movement in Western Sahara, said the move was part of “foreign manoeuvres which aim to destabilise” it.

Meanwhile, White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner will lead a US delegation to Israel and Morocco next week for discussions on the normalisation deal the two Middle East countries reached last week, a senior US administration official said on Tuesday.

The US delegation and an Israeli team will join together and take the first direct commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Rabat as a sign of progress after the Israel-Morocco deal that Kushner helped broker, the official told the Reuters news agency.

While in Jerusalem, Kushner, who is US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, is to hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the official said.

El Al is expected to be the airliner for the first direct flight from Tel Aviv to Rabat that the Kushner team and a delegation led by the Israeli national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat will take, the official said.

In a live interview on Israel’s Army Radio, Transportation Minister Miri Regev was asked about news of the Kushner trip.

“I am so proud that our grandfathers and grandmothers can visit Morocco while still alive. This is peace,” said Regev, who is descended from Moroccan Jewish immigrants to Israel.

The Israel-Morocco deal was the fourth that the United States helped broker, following similar agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

Kushner and his team are still holding talks with other countries from the Arab and Muslim world and hope to seal at least one more agreement before Trump leaves office on January 20.