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Scholars Support US Recognition Of Moroccan Sovereignty Over Western Sahara – OpEd


In a strategic move, the US decided to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Moroccan Sahara, or Western Sahara, in December 2020 and fully endorse Morocco’s autonomy plan as a viable solution to the 46-year-old conflict.

A virtual event was recently organized by the New York City Bar Association (NYCBAR) with the theme “Should President Biden endorse former President Trump’s decision to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara?”

Several top American scholars strongly supported Washington’s 2020 decision over Moroccan Sahara at the one-day webcast on April 14.

Speaking at the webcast, Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former assistant secretary of state, said that Joe Biden’s administration should stick to Washington’s December 2020 decision because Morocco is a “long-standing, loyal, strategic ally” of the US.

Abrams was right. Morocco was the first country in the world to recognize US’ independence on Dec. 20, 1777. Morocco is also a trusted non-NATO ally of the US and both countries have been enjoying close ties for a long time.

Historically, the Kingdom of Morocco controlled Western Sahara much before the start of Spanish colonization as Sahrawi tribal leaders had allegiance to Moroccan rulers. Spain then handed over the Western Sahara administration to Morocco and Mauritania in 1975 under the Madrid Accord.

Since then, Morocco has been controlling most of Western Sahara, except a tiny portion of the desert, which is under the control of separatist armed group Polisario Front, a rebel faction that is fully supported by Algeria’s military-dominated regime. 

With financial and military assistance from Algeria, a regional rival of Morocco, Polisario has been fighting for an independent state of Western Sahara. Polisario has been ruthlessly suppressing Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf refugee camps in Algeria for several decades. It promotes a one-party system under its control.

According to Abrams, there has never been an independent Western Sahara state. If one independent state is established, it would destabilize both Morocco and North Africa. Left-leaning Polisario is notorious for its dictatorial attitudes and policies, which are against democracy, freedom of expression and human rights.

“Never in history had the Western Sahara been an independent state. There was, and is, no pressing historical, political or legal reason to make it one,” Abrams said recently in an article posted on the www.nationalreview.comwebsite.

Therefore, keeping in view of its interests in Morocco and the region, the US must oppose any attack on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Morocco, Morocco’s MAP news agency quoted Abrams as saying.

Echoing a similar view, another speaker, Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor from the George Mason University, said that the US must continue its current policy of recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. There is no need for the Biden administration to endorse Trump’s decision and just continue the new U.S. policy on Western Sahara. 

Kontorovich has further stated that the US policy on the Moroccan Sahara “remains consistent with international law”, which has been proved by the large number of Arab and African countries that have recently opened consulates in the Moroccan Sahara as a sign of full recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. The US has already announced that it would soon open its own consulate in Dakhla, a fishing port in Moroccan Sahara.

Two pro-Polisario speakers were also present at the webcast. They were none other than controversial former US security adviser John Bolton and former diplomat Christopher Ross, who criticized their own country’s foreign policy.

Both Abrams and Kontorovich have countered the arguments of Bolton and Ross in a convincing manner. One must remember that the key to the Western conflict is Algeria, not the Polisario, which is, according to Morocco,  just a puppet in the hands of Algerian masters.

According to Abrams, the Western Sahara conflict would have ended a long time ago.

“In the absence of the blatant Algerian support for Polisario, this conflict would have ended a long time ago within the framework of the Moroccan autonomy plan,” Abrams said.

Algeria had developed a grudge against Morocco after the Sand War in 1963, in which Algeria suffered a humiliating defeat. As a result, it wants to teach Morocco a lesson by creating and supporting Polisario, which has been the main cause of the suffering of thousands of Sahrawi people for more than four decades.

Now, Algeria claims it has no responsibility in the Western Sahara conundrum. It says that Morocco and Polisario are the only parties that can resolve the present conflict.

“We continue to say that direct and serious negotiations are necessary between the parties to the conflict, Morocco and the Polisario Front,” said Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum told journalists recently.

While responding to Boukadoum’s remarks, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said that Algeria is a main party to the Western Sahara conflict, which will end when and only if Algeria takes responsibility and participates fully in UN-led negotiations. Polisario only serves the interest of its master Algeria and never serves the interests of Sahrawi people. That is the reason why the conflict exists to this day.

“I agree with the Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, considering that the solution to the Sahara issue will only be achieved through dialogue between the two real parties to the issue, which we have always called for, with Morocco and Algeria sitting at the dialogue table,” Bourita told the website recently. 

In a desperate effort to show its relevance and presence, Polisario, as per the guidance of Algeria, withdrew from the 1991 cease-fire in November and declared a war on Morocco. However, Morocco has repeatedly said that it is fully committed to peace and the cease-fire. 

In the eyes of Morocco, the Sahrawi people have suffered immense pain for more than four decades due to Algeria and Polisario. That is why Morocco offered an autonomy plan in 2006. It was modelled on the basis of the 2005 Aceh Peace Agreement between the Indonesian government and the rebel separatist movement Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which ended the decades-long Aceh conflict. The people of Aceh now live in peace.

While announcing its decision to recognize the sovereignty of Morocco over Western Sahara, the US said clearly in December that autonomy was the best option for the resolution of the Western Sahara conflict.

“The United States affirms, as stated by previous Administrations, its support for Morocco’s autonomy proposal as the only basis for a just and lasting solution to the dispute over the Western Sahara territory. Therefore, as of today, the United States recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara territory and reaffirms its support for Morocco’s serious, credible, and realistic autonomy proposal as the only basis for a just and lasting solution to the dispute over the Western Sahara territory”, Washington said in a statement in December 2020. 

“The United States believes that an independent Sahrawi State is not a realistic option for resolving the conflict and that genuine autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty is the only feasible solution. We urge the parties to engage in discussions without delay, using Morocco’s autonomy plan as the only framework to negotiate a mutually acceptable solution”.

Polisario and Algeria fail to realize that the world has changed and nobody will support their war efforts. Past experience has proven Polisario’s inability to win the war against mighty Morocco. Peace is the only option, and the best way to achieve it is through Morocco’s autonomy plan.

Veeramalla Anjaiah

Veeramalla Anjaiah is a Jakarta-based senior journalist and the author of the book “Azerbaijan Seen from Indonesia

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