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January 19, 2021
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First Israeli flight lands in Morocco to mark normalisation deal

RABAT, Morocco: The first Israel-Morocco direct commercial flight has landed in Rabat to mark the latest United States-brokered normalisation deal between the two Middle Eastern nations.

Israeli envoys arrived in Morocco on Tuesday to meet its king and hammer out the upgrade in ties in a parting foreign policy push by US President Donald Trump.

Led by National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, the Israeli delegation was accompanied by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and architect of the pan-Arab rapprochement with Israel.

They took El Al Israel Airlines in the first direct flight by a commercial plane from Tel Aviv to Rabat.

Speaking at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport before his departure, Kushner stressed that the United Arab Emirates-Israel deal had already created commercial opportunities for both countries.

“My hope is that this flight today to Morocco will create the same amount of momentum,” between Morocco and Israel, he said, before getting on the plane painted with the Hebrew, Arabic and English words for “peace”.

Morocco became the third Arab state this year, after the UAE and Bahrain, to normalise ties with Israel under US-brokered deals, while Sudan has pledged to follow suit.

Palestinians have condemned the deals, calling them a betrayal of a longstanding demand that Israel first meet their statehood demand.

Related story: Morocco, Israel agree to normalise relations in US-brokered deal

Morocco closed its liaison office in Israel in 2000, at the start of the second Intifada.

As the Trump administration has sought to isolate Iran, the normalisation deals have been sweetened with promises of business opportunities or economic aid.

Both Israel and Morocco anticipate a surge in tourism aboard such connections, mainly among the hundreds of thousands of Israelis of Moroccan descent.

Israel’s new partners have also enjoyed bilateral benefits from Washington – in Rabat’s case, the US recognition of its sovereignty over Western Sahara.

“This type of agreement [with Israel] will help have a better interaction between communities and people,” Moroccan Tourism Minister Nadia Fettah Alaoui told I24 television.

During the visit, Ben-Shabbat and Kushner will see Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, Israeli officials said.

Moroccan and Israeli officials are also scheduled to sign accords on linking up aviation and financial systems, on visas and water management.

The delegates’ plane, painted with the Hebrew, Arabic and English words for “peace” and a Maghreb good-luck talisman, had a low-key reception at Rabat airport.

Moroccan officials describe their deal with Israel as a restoration of mid-level ties that Rabat cooled in 2000 in solidarity with Palestinians.

Israel and Morocco now plan to reopen mutual “liaison offices”. Israel hopes these will be upgraded to embassies.