In a deal brokered by the Trump administration, Morocco and Israel have agreed to establish diplomatic relations. The United States has also agreed to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over occupied Western Sahara, the first country in the world to do so. Morocco has occupied much of the resource-rich territory since 1975 in defiance of the United Nations and the international community. Thousands of indigenous Sahrawis have been tortured, imprisoned, killed and disappeared while resisting the Moroccan occupation. Morocco is the fourth Arab nation to establish ties with Israel since August, part of a diplomatic push by the outgoing Trump administration to shore up international support for Israel. Palestinian diplomat and scholar Hanan Ashrawi says this latest agreement is legitimizing land theft. “This is part of a whole pattern of behavior, a process whereby the Trump administration has been acting as the errand boy for Israel in order to try to get as many victories, as many benefits, as many privileges for Israel,” she says.
AMY GOODMAN: Morocco and Israel have agreed to establish diplomatic relations as part of a U.S.-brokered deal. Morocco is the fourth Arab nation to establish ties with Israel since August. As part of the deal, the United States agreed to become the first country in the world to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over occupied Western Sahara — what many consider to be Africa’s last colony. It’s due to open a consulate in the occupied city of Dakhla, where there are few, if any, U.S. citizens.
Morocco has occupied much of the resource-rich territory since 1975 in defiance of the United Nations and the international community. Thousands of Sahrawis have been tortured, imprisoned, killed and disappeared while resisting the Moroccan occupation. Following Morocco’s invasion in 1975, about half of the Sahrawi population fled to neighboring Algeria, where they have lived for the past 45 years in refugee camps in the middle of the desert.
The deals come less than a month after a nearly three-decade-old ceasefire ended in Western Sahara. In November, the Moroccan military broke into a no-go buffer zone in southern Western Sahara to attack Sahrawi civilians blocking off a Morocco-built road and exchanged fire with the Polisario Front, the Sahrawi liberation movement seeking independence. Morocco has since intensified its repression in occupied Western Sahara, raiding and laying siege to the homes of pro-independence activists and journalists, arresting dozens of people and cracking down on protests.
Human rights groups criticized the U.S.-Morocco-Israel deal, which was announced on International Human Rights Day. In Washington, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont said, quote, “After losing his own bid for re-election, President Trump cannot by 'proclamation' negate international law or the rights of the people of Western Sahara. They are entitled to what they have long been promised — a free and fair vote on self-determination.” In 1991, the United Nations promised Sahrawis a referendum on self-determination as part of a ceasefire deal, but Morocco has blocked the referendum from happening.
Bassam al-Salhi of the Palestine Liberation Organization also condemned Morocco for joining Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates in establishing ties with Israel despite the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. He said the deal is unacceptable and warned it will embolden, quote, “Israel’s belligerence and its denial of the Palestinian people’s rights.”
We’re joined right now by Hanan Ashrawi, the longtime Palestinian diplomat and scholar. She recently resigned her position as executive committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organization. She was the first woman to hold a seat in the highest executive body in Palestine. She’s joining us right now from the West Bank.
We welcome you to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. If you can start off by talking about the Morocco-Israel part of this deal? Hanan Ashrawi, it’s great to have you with us.
HANAN ASHRAWI: Thank you. It’s good to be with you, Amy. I can’t hear you.
AMY GOODMAN: So, if you can start off by talking about Morocco’s recognition of Israel, and what this means for the Palestinians?
HANAN ASHRAWI: Well, this is part of a whole pattern of behavior, a process whereby the U.S. — the Trump administration — I don’t want to say “the U.S.” — has been acting as the errand boy for Israel in order to try to get as many victories, as many benefits, as many privileges for Israel. And right now it’s rushing like mad in a race against time before they leave office, in order to reposition Israel, to normalize relations with the Arab world and to deliver Palestine to Israel and to legalize or legitimize the occupation of Palestine and the land theft of Palestine and the escalation — and, sorry, annexation of land, as well as the building of settlements and so on.
So, this pattern, in many ways, utilized very — not just illegal, but cruel means. I said it’s between bribery and blackmail. And it uses the weak spots in different countries and the needs of different countries in order to supply them on behalf of Israel and extract concessions for Israel. Now, look at the UAE. Look at Bahrain, who’s also normalized with Israel and is in trouble. Look at now Morocco. Now, the instability in many different countries — look at Sudan, of course, which is another tragic case — was exploited, and the weakness of and the needs of certain regimes and rulers were also exploited, in order to extract these privileges and so on for Israel and reposition it as a major power in the region and to give it a free hand and to enable it to be part of what they call the Sunni moderate bloc in facing Iran and the Shia.
Now, with Morocco, it’s different from the issue of Sudan and the Gulf countries, because Sudan, of course, needed to be removed off the terrorist list and needed the blockade to be lifted. Morocco wanted the U.S. to recognize and accept its control and its annexation — control over and annexation of the Western Sahara. And different countries in the world, the U.N. and so on, do not recognize Moroccan control or annexation of the Western Sahara. Neither did the U.S. This is a change in U.S. policy, and it’s a violation of U.N. resolutions that granted the Sahrawis, the Western Sahara, self-determination — in the same way as the Palestinians are every year told that they have the right to self-determination. But with the implementation, we never get it. So this has created, again, a situation of quid pro quo, where the U.S. exploits the weakness or the avarice of other countries in order to bring them to normalize with Israel and in order to break Arab ranks, to destroy the Arab Peace Initiative, to violate successive Arab resolutions and to place Israel in the heart of the region as a major economic, military, security power.
Now, Morocco, grantedly — there’s an article in The New York Times, I think, today — has been cooperating secretly — the Moroccan regime; I don’t want to say the people, because the Moroccan people are among the most supportive of the Palestinian cause, and they’re extremely patriotic and extremely — they identify with Palestine. So, they’re very unhappy with what’s happening. They’re very unhappy with the normalization with Israel. And they know that normalizing with Israel means normalizing the occupation, means normalizing lawlessness. It means that they are giving Israel a free hand to continue with its policies against Palestine.
And we are seeing how, in these last days of the Trump administration, Israel has escalated and intensified its settlement activities, its home demolition of the Palestinian people, its superimposing and apartheid system now totally on the West Bank, in particular, and its illegal annexation of Jerusalem, and creating rings of settlements to isolate Jerusalem and to fragment the West Bank, knowing that it has the blessings of this U.S. administration and knowing full well that destroys any chances of peace, in the same way as it destroys the chance of having a viable, territorially contiguant Palestinian state.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what exactly does it mean, Hanan Ashrawi, to have Bahrain, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco recognize Israel? How does that change things on the ground for Gaza and the West Bank?
HANAN ASHRAWI: It just emboldens Israel even further. It’s not a question of recognition or making peace, as the Trump administration claims. There was no war. I mean, they don’t share borders with Israel. They’ve never had a war with Israel, neither Morocco nor the Emirates nor Bahrain nor Sudan. So, in a sense, what they’re doing is looking for anyplace where they can make peace or where they can have agreements and normalization, as they say, in order to say they made peace, and you see the Palestinian question is not central and is not a prerequisite to peace, and the Arab Peace Initiative is no longer applicable, and that Israel can have all the fruits of what is called peace and normalization without having to pay its dues in terms of compliance with international law.
So, this, of course, does weaken the Palestinian position. The U.S. administration has taken several unilateral and illegal steps in order to bash the Palestinians into submission, and it failed. And it says, you know, now it’s very clear that they have fragmented the Arab position. They have created and enhanced fault lines within the region. They are supporting a sort of artificial polarization. And they are creating further rifts between the people and their leadership. And they are supporting more autocratic or despotic regimes. And we think that Trump and Trump administration has been acting like one, and outside the law, so to speak. So, now, of course, the Palestinians know that this weakens their hand. They know that this, in many ways, undermines the Arab unanimous support for the Palestinian cause. The regimes themselves may have taken such self-serving and illegal positions, but the people, the Arab people as a whole, remain committed and remain supportive of the Palestinian cause.
Now, Israel feels that it is not only above the law, that it can do whatever it wants, but it has partners in crimes. First it was the American administration that entered into collusion or complicity with the U.S. administration and with Israel — with Israel. Now it is bringing, dragging Arab countries or Arab leaders in order to do the same. And it went so far as the Emiratis have been signing agreements with the settlers and with the settler business groups. And we keep reminding people settlements are illegal. They are a war crime, according to their own statute and the ICC. And anybody who cooperates or supports or aids and abets a war crime can be held accountable, as well. But they’re moving so fast, and they’re creating situations that are so volatile, I think, that they will introduce more instability in the region.
It is an abnormal situation. It is a result of specific needs, was the need for Netanyahu to be able to get reelected. It was the need for Trump to say he’s a peacemaker before November. Now it’s a question of fulfilling requirements in order to appeal to his constituency, whether it is the extreme-right-wing Zionist evangelicals or whether it is the pro-Israel lobby or whether it is his funders, like Sheldon Adelson and others. This has become a pattern that is very disruptive, that is illegal in many ways, and that has placed the U.S. outside the realm of peacemaking or recognition of and adherence to international law and U.N. resolutions.
AMY GOODMAN: Hanan Ashrawi, can you address why you stepped down from the PLO leadership? Explain your decision.
HANAN ASHRAWI: OK. Well, I did issue a statement, and I did speak out, but it’s a question of actually fulfilling not just a promise, but a pledge. It is practicing what you preach, in many ways, in the sense that I believe it is time for the PLO to be reformed, for the institutions to be rejuvenated, for the democratic process to take place, to have elections and to elect new leadership, particularly young men and women, and to reform the system and, of course, to respect our institutions and their role.
There have been several instances and issues, which I don’t want to discuss, I mean, right now, but I did discuss them with the president, that I felt have weakened and undermined the standing of the PLO and our decision-making, and continued the rift, which was not in our benefit, and it had weakened the Palestinian position internationally and in terms of standing up to Israeli violations.
So, there’s a long list of things, but I feel it’s time. And I’ve been trying to leave for some time now. And I wanted to practice what we call the graceful exit, in order to make room for others. And perhaps this will trigger others or trigger more reform or trigger the meeting of the institutions of the PLO in order to elect a new leadership. And we do need elections and a genuine revitalization of the system and an exercise of democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, can you address the issue of the pandemic, COVID-19, in the Occupied Territories? You tested positive for COVID. You have Saeb Erekat, the chief PLO negotiator, who died of COVID. Can you talk about the situation and how you recovered?
HANAN ASHRAWI: Certainly. It’s really drastic. It’s extremely dangerous. We have lockdowns every weekend, but that’s not enough. There is no movement between different districts and so on, but the situation is rapidly threatening to get out of control. And actually, we don’t know [inaudible] still has any vaccine or medicine.
But the thing is, we are under occupation. We do not control our borders, our crossing points, entrance and exit. Israel controls everything. And as such, in many cases, people who come in or go out and so on are subject to Israeli control and what Israel does and says, and therefore we were unable to control our borders, and the workers who go to Israel or Palestinians from Israel who come to visit families and have social occasions, because we are one people, the indigenous Palestinians in Israel — we call them the ’48 Palestinians. So it has created a situation where there is really no control.
And we don’t have a health system, despite the fact that we have very qualified doctors and a minister of health that has been working extremely hard to try to control it. It did at first. It acted quickly. It controlled the situation. And then, with the second wave, it became worse. And now we’re going through the third wave, where every day we have more than 2,000 cases and we have deaths by the scores, which, given the number of people we have, is a very high ratio. And we don’t have enough health facilities, the hospitals, and even the swabs, the needed treatment, medicine. So —
AMY GOODMAN: So, let me ask you, then — the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says he will be the very first person to get a COVID vaccine, to be injected with one. What will happen to the Palestinians? What kind of access will you have?
HANAN ASHRAWI: What kind of what? Sorry.
AMY GOODMAN: Access to vaccines will you have?
HANAN ASHRAWI: Yeah, well, the president has been talking to many different countries. And every time he addresses a leader of a country, like Russia and other places, he does ask for the vaccine. And the Ministry of Health has been in touch with the pharmaceutical companies that are producing, manufacturing this vaccine. So, we have to get it ourselves, and we have to pay for it. But at the same time, we’re addressing other countries to be able to help in terms of acquiring the necessary vaccines. We don’t expect to get them soon. We don’t have the means to buy enough for the whole population. So, I think there will be several countries that have volunteered to help, to assist, but it means we’ll have to wait a while to be able to get it. And the fact that it is becoming more prevalent, it is spreading quite rapidly.
I was talking to the minister of health, Dr. Mai. She’s quite a hard-working, excellent health practitioner. And she told me that they’re desperately trying to get enough, and she’s in touch with many different sources. And we hope, through the WHO and others, there will be help. But they’re worried that if we do not get it quickly, the hospitals and the ICU facilities will not be enough to take care of them. We do have good and qualified health service providers, and we trust them, but at the same time we don’t know if they can cope with the scope of the spread of the COVID-19 in Palestine.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, I want to thank you for being with us, Palestinian diplomat, scholar, recently resigned her position as executive committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the first woman to hold a seat in the highest executive body in Palestine, also served as the official spokesperson of the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace process. She herself had COVID and now has recovered.
When we come back, we go from the Israel-Morocco alliance to the U.S.-Morocco alliance, to the U.S. acknowledging — to the U.S. recognizing the sovereignty of Morocco over Western Sahara, the first country in the world to do so. Stay with us.