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Israeli Official Supports Morocco's Western Sahara Sovereignty

FILE: A man takes part in a demonstration in support of Western Sahara's independence, in Madrid November 16, 2014. Thirty-nine years after Spain left Western Sahara in the hands of Moroccan troops, two thirds of its territory still remain under the rule of Rabat.

RABAT - The speaker of Israel's parliament, Amir Ohana, said Thursday his country "should move toward" recognizing Morocco's sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara, during an official visit to the North African kingdom.

"Israel should move toward that goal of recognizing the Moroccan Sahara just as our closest ally the United States did... I supported and pushed toward that goal," Israeli Knesset [parliament] Speaker Amir Ohana said during a news conference in Rabat.

"Serious discussions" between the countries over the issue are underway and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "will be announcing his decisions in the near future," he added.

Rabat controls nearly 80 percent of the Western Sahara and sees the entire territory, home to abundant phosphates and fisheries, as its sovereign territory.

Rabat advocates for limited autonomy for the vast desert territory while the Polisario Front movement seeks independence and has called for a U.N.-supervised referendum on self-determination, but it has never taken place.

The Western Sahara dispute dates back to 1975, when colonial ruler Spain withdrew from the territory, sparking a 15-year war between Morocco and the Polisario Front movement seeking independence in the territory.

In December 2020, Morocco and Israel established full diplomatic relations as part of the Abraham Accords, which normalized Israeli ties with several Arab countries.

In return for normalization with Israel, Rabat received from Washington recognition of its sovereignty over Western Sahara.

Israeli-Moroccan cooperation in security, trade and tourism has since grown.

On Wednesday, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita met Israel's national security advisor Tzachi Hanegbi, the country's official MAP news agency said.

The two officials "welcomed the sustained momentum of strengthening bilateral cooperation", the agency said.

However, while politicians push for closer ties, sections of Morocco's public are cautious of the presence of ultra-nationalists in Israel's government, who are hostile to further talks with the Palestinians.

Around 50 people demonstrated in front Rabat's parliament Wednesday against Ohana's visit, following a call to protest by the Moroccan Front for Supporting Palestine.