Israel welcomes Morocco normalisation announcement, but Palestinians angry

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed President Donald Trump’s announcement of a normalisation deal between Israel and Morocco as an “historic peace between us”.

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David M. Friedman light the first Hanukkah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City during the the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, December 10, 2020. Emil Salman/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Netanyahu said it would lead to direct flights between Morocco and Israel and that the fourth U.S.-brokered deal between Israel and an Arab country in recent months would be a “very warm peace”.

In a televised address, he said: “I’ve always believed that this historic peace would come. I’ve always worked for it.”

Thanking Trump, he added: “I want to thank, too, the king of Morocco, King Mohammed the Sixth, for taking this historic decision to bring an historic peace between us.”

But Bassam as-Salhi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, condemned the deal, as Palestinian officials did with the earlier Israeli normalisation accords with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

“Any Arab retreat from the (2002) Arab peace initiative, which stipulates that normalisation comes only after Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands, is unacceptable and increases Israel’s belligerence and its denial of the Palestinian people’s rights,” Salhi told Reuters.

In Gaza, Hazem Qassem, spokesman for the ruling Islamist group Hamas, said: “This is a sin and it doesn’t serve the Palestinian people. The Israeli occupation uses every new normalisation to increase its aggression against the Palestinian people and increase its settlement expansion.”

Morocco was the Muslim country from which the greatest number of Jews emigrated to Israel after the 1948 creation of the state. A small Jewish community remains in the North African country.

The news broke in Israel as Jews marked the first night of the Hanukkah festival of lights, commemorating the 2nd century BC victory of Judah Maccabee and his followers in a revolt in Judea against armies of the Seleucid Empire and the ensuing restoration of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.

Rafael Peretz, an Israeli cabinet minister, welcomed the deal, calling it “historic and joyous”.

“My parents, who immigrated from Morocco and left their entire lives behind, always spoke of peace and about good relations with the Arab neighbours in Morocco,” he tweeted.

“The time has come for us to do so, too.”

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich