Israel has refused to address the issue despite Moroccan demands, Axios reports.

Morocco has demanded that Israel recognize its sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara before Rabat opens an embassy in Tel Aviv, the Axios news outlet reported, citing four current and former Israeli officials involved in the case.

Morocco has been embroiled for decades in a dispute with the Algerian-backed Polisario Front, a breakaway movement seeking an independent state in Western Sahara.

Western Sahara was a Spanish colony until 1975. Morocco then took control of the vast expanse of desert on Africa’s Atlantic coast, which is slightly larger than the United Kingdom, in a move not recognized internationally.

Rabat is using the recognition issue as a reason not to open a full embassy in the Israeli capital, the US news website reported, the officials said, without disclosing their names.

So far, Israel has decided not to engage in the issue, the officials said. The Moroccan government has not commented on the story.

The North African country has had informal ties with Israel for years.

The two countries had low-level diplomatic relations in the 1990s following Israel’s interim peace agreements with the Palestinians, but those ties were suspended after the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000.

However, the informal ties have continued since then. In December 2020, Morocco and Israel agreed to normalize relations brokered a deal with the help of the United States. As part of the agreement, then-US President Donald Trump agreed to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara.

Under the agreement, Morocco said it will establish full diplomatic relations and resume official contacts with Israel, allowing overflights, as well as direct flights to and from Israel for all Israelis.

In 2021, the two countries signed another agreement in a step to further strengthen their ties. As part of the new agreement, Morocco and Israel agreed to cooperate in the areas of culture, sports and youth.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration said it will review the previous government’s decision to recognize Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara.

Relations with Israel are a touchy subject in Morocco, with pro-Palestinian sentiment high among the public, as evidenced by Moroccan players raising the Palestinian flag several times during the recently concluded FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

However, international recognition of its control over Western Sahara is also an important goal for the Moroccan government, which left the African Union in 1984 in protest of the organization’s recognition of the Polisario. Morocco only rejoined the continental body in 2016.

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