Please see below to read the English version of Yuval Rabin's article about the role of Morocco in furthering the Israeli journey toward peace. This piece was originally published in Arabic in Al-Ahdath Al-Maghrebiyah and in French in L'Observateur.
Morocco – the place of brave leadership, once again
Had someone told me, “Your father walked the face of the moon,” I would have found it far less sensational than, “Your father visited Morocco!” Such were the perceptions of a typical Israeli, myself included, at the time.
The visit? Classified state visit. The time? October 1976; the visitor? My late father Yitzhak Rabin - then a first-term Prime Minister.
This inconceivable meeting, an historic precedent for a sitting Israeli Prime Minister in an Arab capital, eventually paved the way to the historic visit of Anwar Sadat in Jerusalem in 1977. It paved the way to the events that changed the future of the Middle East — and the meetings that showed the world that Israel and the largest Arab country CAN reach a full-fledged peace agreement, thus superseding a series of cease-fire and interim agreements.
The aftermath of the 1973 war offered new opportunities. True leaders transform opportunities to new realities. HM King Hassan II, Prime Minister Rabin, President Sadat, President Carter, and Prime Minister Begin proved to be such leaders. Though they may have not shared the same vision, the combined efforts of these individual leaders indeed created this transformation and launched a totally new era. At a time when the doors to such bold and creative thinking were closed in most Arab capitals, HM King Hassan II stepped in, as he had in so many local, regional, and international arenas, to create a space that would enable peace to bud and flower.
What started in October 1976 matured in a very short time, culminating with the signing of the Camp David Accords in September 1978, which created a full peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, and laid the foundation for a future solution to the Palestinian issue. In order to achieve it, Israel made significant, painful concessions, previously unimagined and thought to be impossible — namely, the withdrawal from the entire Sinai Peninsula. But even this vast territorial compromise paled by comparison to the decision to recognize “the legitimate rights of the Palestinian peoples,” as the agreement was phrased. Further still was Israel’s commitment to agree to an open-ended 5 year interim period in which the parties will conclude negotiations “to determine the final status of the West Bank and Gaza and its relationship with its neighbors.”
Regrettably, despite numerous attempts including the breakthrough Oslo Accords – the “5-year interim agreement” period has yet to start, let alone end. Forty years after this historic visit to Morocco, numerous conflicts later, and incredible amounts of bloodshed, the region is in desperate need of a new breed and a new generation of leaders to conclude this unfinished business.
No, I am not oblivious to the current circumstances prevailing in the region and the world. And yes, I belong to the camp that believes these circumstances pose tremendous risks, even as they offer significant opportunities. The region is yearning for new leadership. Leadership that can rise up to the opportunity and rather than follow – lead! Identify partners — and there are many. Identify risks — and yes, they are abundant. And work to leverage the mutual interests to benefit our common interests: security, economic and social.
Today I follow my father’s legacy, and I am the co-founder of the Israeli Regional Initiative (IRI). The IRI is a non-partisan, quiet-impact group, promoting a strategic alliance between Israel and key Arab states, as a new paradigm that will bring stability, security, and economic prosperity to the Middle East region. The changes and turmoil in the Middle East have given rise to shared interests between Israel and leading Arab states that face similar threats. Their willingness to cooperate is critical in order to block Iran, ISIS, and other terrorist organizations. It is also necessary in order to achieve progress towards the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, building on the Arab Peace Initiative, and as an integral part of a regional framework agreed upon by Israel, Palestine, and Arab states. This rare window of opportunity can be leveraged to generate effective Israeli-Palestinian regional negotiations that will replace the hitherto unsuccessful bilateral negotiations with a comprehensive “regional package deal.”
When I speak with my colleagues in Israel, I always stress that the role of Morocco in furthering the journey toward peace cannot be emphasized enough. As “Amir al-Mu’mineen,” King Mohammed VI, like his father, enjoys the full faith and confidence of his people. He is a trusted intermediary across the region and beyond, from the Arabian Gulf to Senegal. As chair of the “Jerusalem Committee,” he safeguards the legitimate rights of Muslims in that holy city. And indeed, among Israelis, he is admired and beloved — in particular, by the more than one million of our citizens whose roots are in Morocco. They serve in all walks of life, from the upper echelons of government to the vegetable markets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where portraits of Moroccan royalty still hang on walls. Many feel that they owe their lives to the late King Mohammed V for protecting his Jewish subjects — and other Jewish refugees — from the fires of the Holocaust. There is a feeling in these quarters that as “Amir al-Mu’mineen,” King Mohammed VI is an “Amir” for all Moroccans, whether Muslim or Jewish.
The IRI Group has sought to develop a model for Israelis and their partners to pursue in working toward a viable and feasible regional package deal. As we travel in the region and engage our colleagues, we seek continuously to hone and improve our approach. We look to Morocco with great optimism and hope, and place our confidence in its leadership.