The recent outbreak of violence between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza threatens to upend decades of painstaking diplomacy by Morocco to broker peace between the two sides.
In early October 2023, Palestinian militant groups led by Hamas launched Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, firing barrages of rockets at Israeli towns and cities. They said it was in response to “Israeli violations” at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem. Israel responded with punishing airstrikes on Gaza. The fighting marked the worst escalation since the 2014 Gaza war.
For Morocco, the fresh violence represents a major setback. It comes just two years after Morocco agreed to normalize relations with Israel under the Abraham Accords, with the promise of being able to leverage these new ties to advance peace. Now, with tensions inflamed anew, Morocco’s unique role as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians faces its biggest test yet.
Morocco’s involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates back to the 1950s and 1960s, when the late King Mohammed V expressed support for Palestinian statehood. In 1965, King Hassan II began actively promoting himself as an intermediary for peace.
King Hassan II first proposed a peace initiative during a visit to Lebanon in 1958, suggesting that Arabs recognize Israel in exchange for the return of Palestinian lands. At the time, the young prince’s ideas were dismissed. But in 1977, Hassan II broke Arab consensus by backing Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s landmark visit to Jerusalem.
In 1986, King Hassan II made global headlines by hosting Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres in Morocco for secret talks – the first visit of its kind, pushing for the creation of a Palestinian state. After the Madrid Conference launched the Oslo Peace Process in 1991, Hassan II took up the mantle of economic diplomacy, bringing together Arab, Israeli and Palestinian business leaders to build habits of cooperation.
By the time of his death in 1999, Hassan II had dramatically expanded Morocco’s diplomatic role in the Middle East. But final peace remained elusive. King Mohammed VI inherited his father’s commitment to Palestinian rights. But he faced growing regional turmoil that strained Morocco’s position as mediator.
Coming to power in 1999, Mohammed VI initially aligned with popular Arab sentiment by freezing ties with Israel in solidarity with the Second Intifada uprising. Yet he continued Morocco’s peacemaking efforts behind the scenes, leveraging the kingdom’s religious authority to broker ceasefires.
In 2002, Morocco’s king condemned Israel’s “policy of repression and collective punishment” while warning that Palestinian suicide bombings would only engender further occupation. This nuanced stance reflected a longstanding Moroccan strategy – empathizing with Palestinian suffering while opposing violence.
After the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, Mohammed VI sought to bolster the standing of newly elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, inviting him to Morocco.
Yet the king grew frustrated with the deadlock in negotiations through the 2000s. In 2009, he took the rare step of publicly criticizing Israel’s “arrogance and obstructionism” while affirming support for Abbas.
Amid the turmoil of the Arab Spring protests in 2011, Mohammed VI affirmed that Morocco’s stance on Palestine would never change regardless of regime transitions in the region. But by 2020, shifting geopolitics led Morocco to formalize and resume ties with Israel under the Abraham Accords, mediated by the Trump administration. King Mohammed VI emphasized Morocco’s enduring commitment to the Palestinian cause. But the Palestinians viewed the deal as a betrayal, undermining trust built up over decades.
Now, in the wake of new violence in Gaza, Morocco is struggling to leverage its renewed ties to Israel to push for de-escalation and keep the two-state solution alive. Morocco now finds itself at the center of a complex three-way diplomacy between the Israelis, Palestinians and Americans that will test the limits of its influence to broker peace.
On one hand, the kingdom has incentives to deepen strategic cooperation with Israel following the Abraham Accords. But Morocco also faces pushback from the Arab street and domestically to avoid abandoning the Palestinian cause. As Commander of the Faithful and the Chairman of Al-Quds Committee, King Mohammed VI is obligated to defend Palestinian rights, including in Jerusalem’s holy sites.
The role of the United States further muddies the waters. Morocco relies on American backing in exchange for normalizing relations with Israel. Yet the U.S. has failed to restrain Israeli actions in Jerusalem or mount a serious new peace initiative that could justify Morocco’s controversial embrace of Israel.
For now, Morocco appears paralyzed, unable to shape outcomes through ties to either Israel or the Palestinians. The limits of its leverage seem clearer than ever.
Yet there remains a glimmer of hope that Morocco can draw on its unique religious and cultural ties to Israel and the Palestinian Territories to advance reconciliation. As descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and Commander of the Faithful, the Moroccan monarch derives religious legitimacy that resonates across the Muslim world. The kingdom has centuries-old Jewish roots as well, housing North Africa’s largest Jewish community and playing a key role in Muslim-Jewish dialogue.
While recent violence has been a setback, Morocco has proven resilient over decades in positioning itself as a mediator. Its next moves will determine if this ambitious diplomacy can overcome fresh turmoil.
As the two-state solution recedes, Morocco’s bridge-building is more vital than ever. King Mohammed VI’s ability to leverage the kingdom’s religious authority and historic Holy Land ties could provide a rare ray of hope for lasting peace.