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Morocco Announces Ties with Israel; Minister Calls It a ‘holiday Present’

On the eve of the Jewish New Year, Morocco has become the second Arab country with diplomatic ties with Israel.

On Thursday, the two countries announced that they would soon open Liaison offices in Tel Aviv and Rabat, the Moroccan capital.

“For us it’s a beautiful present on the holiday, but it is beyond a holiday present,” Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told Army Radio.

“The majority of relations that we have focused on were bilateral with states neighboring us.

“This is an opening of a regional system of relations,” said Peres.

Morocco also announced that it would simultaneously open a representative office to the Palestinian governing authority in Gaza. The Palestine Liberation Organization has had what is termed an “embassy” in Rabat for many years.

Morocco and Israel have long had de facto relations, with King Hassan II serving as an intermediary in Israel’s peace efforts over the years.

Speculation of Israeli-Moroccan ties has been rife since the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian accord in Washington last September.

Returning from the Washington ceremony, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Peres stopped off in Morocco, their first public visit to the country.

For some time, Morocco has encouraged tourism and even trade with Israel, where 600,000 Israelis claim Moroccan descent.

ACTIVE NORMALIZATION DISCUSSIONS GOING ON

In its announcement of the establishment of an interest section in Rabat, the Foreign Ministry said that the offices were being set up “according to the rules and norms detailed in the Vienna Treaty on diplomatic relations.”

It was not immediately clear when the exchange of offices would take place.

According to Lester Pollack, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, “There are active normalization discussions going on, and the establishment of liaison offices is a further substantiation of the progress they’re making.”

Pollack met with the king on Wednesday to discuss plans for a regional economic conference the king will host in October.

Rabin and Peres last month received invitations to the conference, which will include government and business representatives from countries such as Jordan and possibly Saudi Arabia, as well as Western business leaders.

“The summit represents a continuation of (Hassan’s) leadership in the area for peace,” said Pollack.

(JTA staff writer Larry Yudelson in New York contributed to this report.)

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