Since the entry into force of the cease-fire in 1991, the final status of Western Sahara remains to be determined, the “great powers” and the Security Council of the UN, in a resolution adopted at the unanimously April 25, 2013, reaffirmed the primacy of the autonomy initiative presented by Morocco. The UN text reiterates that “the status quo is unacceptable and that we must find a solution to the dispute between the Kingdom of Morocco to Algeria. Mohammed VI can even take advantage of efforts “serious and credible” made by his country to find a solution to the question of Western Sahara
In the past, many UN envoys including former US Secretary of State James Baker, deployed efforts in an attempt to find an acceptable solution to this 40 years old conflict but in vain. Mediation is an effective and useful way of dealing with intractable conflicts. This is not to suggest that every intractable conflict can be mediated. Many conflicts are just too intense, the parties too entrenched for any mediator to achieve very much. Some intractable conflicts like the Sahara issue, go on and on with little signs of abatement. They cease to become intractable only when there is a major systemic change. How then can we distinguish between conflicts that can be mediated and those that cannot.
Mediators can engage in an intractable conflict only after a thorough and complete analysis of the conflict, issues at stake, context and dynamics, parties’ grievances, etc. Intractable conflicts are complex and multi-layered. A mediation initiative is more likely to be successful if it is predicated on knowledge and understanding rather than on good intentions only. A good analysis and a thorough understanding of all aspects of the conflict are important prerequisites for successful mediation in intractable conflicts.
Mediation must take place at an optimal or ripe moment. Early mediation may be premature and late mediation may face too many obstacles. A ripe moment describes a phase in the life cycle of the conflict where the parties feel exhausted and hurt, or where they may not wish to countenance any further losses and are prepared to commit to a settlement, or at least believe one to be possible. In destructive and escalating conflicts, mediation can have any chance of success only if it can capture a particular moment when the adversaries, for a variety of reasons, appear most amenable to change. Timing of intervention in an intractable conflict is an issue of crucial importance, and one that must be properly assessed by any would be mediator.
Given the nature and complexity of intractable conflicts, successful mediation requires a co-ordinated approach between different aspects of intervention. Mediation here requires leverage and resources to nudge the parties toward a settlement, but also acute psychological understanding of the parties’ feelings and grievances. The kind of mediation we are talking about here is mediation that is embedded in various disciplinary frameworks, ranging from problem-solving workshops to more traditional diplomatic methods. No one aspect or form of behavior will suffice to turn an intractable conflict around. Diverse and complementary methods, an interdisciplinary focus, and a full range of intervention methods responding to the many concerns and fears of the adversaries, are required to achieve some accommodation between parties in an intractable conflict.
Mediating intractable conflicts require commitment, resources, persistence, and experience. Mediators of high rank or prestige are more likely to possess these attributes and thus are more likely to be successful in intractable conflicts. Such mediators have the capacity to appeal directly to the domestic constituency and build up support for some peace agreement. Influential, high ranking or prestigious mediators have more at stake, can marshal more resources, have better information, and can devote more time to an intractable conflict. Such mediators can work toward achieving some visible signs of progress in the short term, and identify steps that need to be taken to deal with the issues of a longer term peace objectives. Influential mediators can work better within the constraints of intractable conflicts, and more likely to elicit accommodative responses from the adversaries.
Mediation in intractable conflicts is more likely to be effective if there are no sections in each community committed to the continuation of violence. Such parties are usually described as spoilers. Many political analysts considered the Polisario as spoilers who seem to lose more from a peaceful outcome than from the continuation of tension. All these factors provide some guidance on when mediation might make a contribution to intractable conflicts, and when this will be extremely difficult. Surely other factors are present too, factors such as commitment to mediation and willingness to achieve a suitable outcome, desire to stop a cycle of tension, etc. These may be hard to identify and assess, but their presence or absence will surely affect the process and outcome of any mediation effort.
The ball is now in the camp of Sahrawis and their Algerian ally. Long will they continue to turn a deaf ear to the diplomats who advocate realism, refusing to exert any pressure on Rabat and recall the words of Peter van Walsum, the Special Envoy of the Secretary General of the UN in the region , who said that “independent Western Sahara was not a realistic proposition”
On the ground, the viability of the autonomy solution proposed by Morocco is translated by symbolic gestures. One of these gestures is the refusal of some Sahrawi refugees, who come from the Tindouf camps to the Moroccan southern provinces in the context of the family exchange visit program organized periodically by the UNHCR, to go back to Tindouf and who willingly choose to stay in their homeland. Convinced of the Moroccan government?s sincerity to settle this artificial territorial dispute through its autonomy proposal, many Sahrawis who returned to their homeland, have seized this unique opportunity to put an end to the sufferings and hardships they endured in the camps of Tindouf in the Algerian desert.
If the Sahrawis want to take up the autonomy challenge, they must “take their future in their own hands” and seize the opportunity of the different projects initiated and the tremendous efforts made by Morocco in its southern provinces.
In his address to the nation on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the glorious Green March King Mohammed VI made a blunt, clear statement to the other conflicting party : “…we proposed the Autonomy Initiative for the Southern Provinces, which was judged by the international community to be both serious and credible. As I pointed out last year in my address commemorating the anniversary of the Green March, the Initiative is the most Morocco can offer. Its implementation will hinge on achieving a final political settlement within the framework of the United Nations Organization.”