The Kingdom of Morocco called off its scheduled five-day visit to Liberia—a trip that could have also culminated in its attendance at the 51st Ordinary Summit of the Heads of States of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), all because of the presence of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was the guest of honor at the high-level regional gathering.
A strong Moroccan delegation was to be led by King Mohamed VI, but the King canceled his trip due to the attendance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. At the Monrovia Summit, the King and his Foreign Ministry officials were expected to justify why their country should be granted membership status of ECOWAS—a request made earlier this year.
The country’s foreign affairs ministry said in a late statement on Thursday said the king “wants his first presence at an ECOWAS summit not to take place in a context of tension and controversy and wants to avoid any confusion.”
Israel and Morocco do not have diplomatic ties.
The statement further said: “Over the last few days, key ECOWAS member states have decided to reduce their level of representation at the summit due to their disagreement with the invitation handed to the Israeli Prime Minister. Other member states also expressed their astonishment at this invitation.” It was, however, unclear to which countries the statement was referring.
Israeli Foreign Ministry officials, in response, said, however, that the king used Netanyahu’s presence in the summit as an excuse not to attend. They explained that the real reason has to do with ECOWAS’s opposition to Morocco’s membership in the group, because of the king’s policy in Western Sahara.
“This is the first time they (ECOWAS) have invited the leader of a country outside Africa to address them. I really appreciate it. Israel has returned to Africa and in a big way,” Netanyahu said at the summit. “The extent to which they respect us is a mark of honor for the state of Israel.”
As a result of the trip he took to East Africa last year, Netanyahu said that Israel is now in West Africa.
But political pundits said the Moroccan King, who was the only important guest to decline is an important sign of Israel’s ever growing non-isolation.
The Israeli PM said that his country preaches peace, love, and co-existence and as such does not see anyone as an enemy. “Jews, Christians, and Muslims live together as one people in Israel. We are one people,” he said.
Netanyahu is also expected to hold bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the conference with the Presidents of Liberia, Togo, and Côte d’Ivoire.
Two countries in the organization – Niger and Mali – do not have diplomatic ties with Israel. The other 13 that made up ECOWAS are Bénin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.
Netanyahu is joined on the trip by National Infrastructure, Energy, and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and Likud MK Avraham Neguise, chairman of the Knesset’s Israel-Africa Caucus.
This is Netanyahu’s second trip to Africa in a year, after a period of 29 years when no sitting prime minister had visited the continent. He is also scheduled to attend a summit in Togo in October that is expected to draw leaders from 25 countries from across Africa.
While at the Monrovia Summit, Netanyahu signed a cooperation agreement and two memorandums of understanding that will govern cooperation between Israel and ECOWAS across a wide array of fields, from homeland and cyber-security to agriculture and waste management. One of those MoUs deals with promoting investments, technology, and cooperation.
Despite not being a member, Morocco is one of the major investors in the region and has been involved in many peacekeeping and crisis management operations in West Africa.
Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Mr. Nasser Bourita, recently told international media that human and religious ties between Morocco and West Africa are deeply rooted and that the economic presence of Morocco in this zone is very strong.
In February, King Mohamed informed the president of ECOWAS of Morocco’s interest in joining the organization. The Moroccan government officially made the request through President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was then Chairperson of ECOWAS. President Sirleaf’s tenure ended yesterday and led to the election of Togolese President Fauré Gnassingbé to chair the 15-member country bloc.
It is being reported that Rwanda, Liberia, and Nigeria have been among the key countries lobbying for Morocco to join.
When admitted into the group, Morocco is expected to crown the strong political, human, historical, religious, and economic ties at all levels with all ECOWAS member countries,” a statement issued by the Kingdom of Morocco, said.
The statement also said that Morocco’s desire to join ECOWAS was part of the Royal Vision for regional integration, as a key to Africa’s economic growth, and the King’s Africa Policy as reflected by the return of the Kingdom to the African Union.
Morocco may not be geographically located in West of Africa, but its request is in line with provisions of ECOWAS’s founding treaty and membership criteria. Morocco currently maintains institutional relations with ECOWAS through its Observer status.
The Moroccan King has reportedly visited 11 countries in West Africa in the last few years during which several agreements have been reached, geared towards improving relations.