JERUSALEM (Jul. 22)
King Hassan of Morocco has a long record of high level contacts with Israelis, although Premier Shimon Peres’ surprise visit to that country Monday night as the King’s guest is the first publicly acknowledged summit-level dialogue between the two countries.
Peres is known to have visited Hassan at least twice during the period 1977-1984 when he was leader of the Labor opposition. And Hassan played host to Yitzhak Rabin when he was Prime Minister of Israel in the mid-70s, though Rabin’s trip to Rabat was undertaken in strictest secrecy.
Hassan’s quest for Middle East peace accelerated after Likud came to power in Israel under Premier Menachem Begin in 1977. He hosted two crucial secret negotiating sessions with then Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Hassan Tohamey, a senior aide to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
Those sessions are said to have paved the way for Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem on November 19, 1977, the Camp David meetings between Sadat and Begin a year later and the subsequent peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
Hassan invited Begin to Morocco. But the latter, according to Israeli sources, insisted that a visit be open and official and Hassan demurred. Last year the Moroccan ruler publicly invited Peres to meet with him, “but only if he comes with a real peace plan.”
Shortly afterwards, Hassan appealed to the Arab world to select one of its leaders to meet with Peres for an exchange of views on peace. In March, 1986, he said he himself would accept the assignment. But there was no response from other Arab heads of state.
TIMING OF HASSAN’S INVITATION
Some analysts here attribute the timing of Hassan’s latest invitation, which Peres accepted, to Morocco’s desire to improve its relations with the U.S. Washington has been concerned of late by a Moroccan flirtation with Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. The analysts suggest that Morocco may feel that a rapprochement with Israel would boost its standing with the Americans.
Hassan had been scheduled to visit Washington this week but postponed his trip for health reasons. He is believed to be hoping for increased U.S. military and economic aid. Morocco’s ongoing war with the Polisario rebels in the Sahara has been draining its resources.
Morocco has always maintained warm ties with Israelis of Moroccan origin. They are allowed to pay visits to their native country without undue bureaucratic difficulties. Members of the small Jewish community still living in Morocco — about 18,000, mainly in Fez — are permitted to visit Israel and many do so quite openly.
This attitude is unique in the Arab world and has earned Hassan special affection in Israel. Many Israelis from Morocco speak fondly of their former home and stress the atmosphere of tolerance and cordiality which generally prevails between Jews and their Moslem neighbors in Morocco.
“Relations were generally good, even when disturbing events such as wars were taking place outside,” Labor MK Yaacov Amir, who was born in Morocco said Tuesday. He attributed this to King Hassan and the King’s late father.