Before a long, long time ago, as they say in fairy tales, the U.N. Security Council agreed to organize a referendum in which the Saharan people would be asked if they want independence, or some kind of association with Morocco. A peacekeeping mission was established, and a census was taken of those who should be allowed to vote. Of course, by knowing who will be registered, it would be possible to know which way this vote would go. Morocco tried to pack the voters list, and tied up the and appeals system with challenges. Everything has been stuck for years. MINURSO entered Western Sahara in 1991 with three objectives – to secure the peace treaty between Moroccan forces and Western Saharan rebels, to find out who was eligible to vote in a referendum on the matter of independence for Western Sahara, and then to carry out the referendum. So far, in 18 years, they are still on objective one.
Morocco’s King Mohammad VI, like his father Hassan II, says that it is unimaginable that Morocco could lose the Western Sahara and claims that the prestige, if not the future, of the regime is pinned on this position. A unanimity that has been manufactured by the state and this state could manufacture a consensus in favour of self-determination or even independence.
Polisario’s position is more flexible than Morocco’s, as they at least entertain all possibilities – an independent Western Sahara, a semi-autonomous Western Sahara as part of Morocco, or complete integration of Western Sahara as part of Morocco. Morocco is only prepared to consider the last two options. So Morocco is the problem – the party that is blocking a solution through a lack of flexibility and a narrow, orwellian interpretation of the UN requirement for self determination. Morocco has set a precondition that states that complete freedom of self-determination is not on offer, because it will not allow it. Morocco insists that the forcible occupation and annexation of one territory by a neighbouring country is compatible with the principle of self-determination
Truth not balance, and a referendum on self determination. That’s what it’s about. Not weasel words about how occupation and oppression can be compatible with self determination.
The question remains: Will the current negotiations be able to end Africa’s longest running territorial dispute?
Morocco is certainly unlikely to endorse a solution based on independence for Western Sahara under current circumstances. Morocco wants to grant no more than large autonomy under its sovereignty and has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
So, it is uncertain that the talks will yield any results. This business of “without pre-conditions” simply seems to mean forget what the UN Security Council previously endorsed, which is a referendum in which Sahrawis would vote to decide if they want independence, or integration with Morocco.
Now, the international community as represented in,or by, the UN Security Council is saying « forget it, that didn’t work, you’ve cost us a lot of time and money (in peace-keeping missions, diplomatic meetings, and whatever) so the time has come to be realistic, and what you will get to vote on is just whether or not you’ll agree to autonomy within the Kingdom of Morocco ». That’s it.
By the way, this diplomatic “realism” didn’t start with the U.S. It started with UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, a royalist if ever there was one, who was on quite good terms with King Hassan of Morocco, who began floating this proposal to just forget the referendum the UN Security Council had authorized, and work on “negotiations” to persuade the Polisario to agree to the autonomy proposal that Morocco had always wanted.
The Moroccan supporters’ willingness to consistently reframe the conflict has been made painfully apparent. While the Polisario Front has argued one consistent theme since 1975 – a free and fair referendum for the self-determination of the Saharawi people, as endorsed by the UN Security Council and General Assembly – Morocco has reached into its bottomless arsenal of arguments to try to win over the support of the powerful Western nations.
It is clear that sponsorship, in the past, of the Moroccan position by France and US is the key to Morocco’s continued military effort against POLISARIO as well as its capacity to block any UN action by ensuring that, under the threat of veto, the Security Council will not make any peace proposal enforceable upon Morocco in its breach of UN self-determination processes and its effective conquest of the territory.
It is very sad that France, with its motto of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” is not able to offer its support to end the Africa’s older conflict.
In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of Saharawi refugees live in shameful conditions in the Tindouf camps with little prospect of change. The diplomatic community expresses its sympathy for the plight of the Saharawis, but is not prepared to take action.
It would be wrong to overestimate the possibilities of a peaceful solution to the conflict in the near future, in such circumstances, but it would be equally mistaken to dismiss the determination of the Saharawi to get their rights, even by the weapons.