Trump’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty has solved nothing

It took more than two years and no less than thirteen proposals before the UN appointed a new envoy to Western Sahara. The Italian Staffan de Mistura, 74, will therefore have the role of mediator between Morocco and the Polisario Front to try to resolve this conflict, which has been going on for decades. Political scientist specializing in the Maghreb and teacher at the University of Paris I, Khadija Mohsen-Finan believes that this appointment was necessary for this conflict to be resolved, following a number of recognitions of Moroccan sovereignty from certain countries, including the United States.

TV5MONDE: How to explain the appointment of this broadcaster after more than two years of fruitless attempts?

Khadija Mohsen-Finan: The UN must certainly have put pressure on the protagonists by saying that a special envoy was absolutely necessary if we were to return to a UN procedure to find a way out of this conflict. Morocco has seen US President Donald Trump’s solution, but things have not really changed.

Admittedly, the Biden administration did not go back on what Donald Trump had decided, but on the other hand, it did not confirm that the Sahara was in fact Moroccan in these terms, and on the contrary, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken even said he wanted the search after a solution to this conflict was to go through the UN. So Morocco may have seen the need for a legal solution to this conflict, especially as the European Court of Justice has repeatedly ruled in favor of the Sahrawis because they were not consulted in the use of resources in this territory, which is considered to be autonomous.

TV5MONDE: Is the UN’s goal still to organize a referendum on self-determination in Western Sahara?

Khadija Mohsen-Finan: So it is much less safe. First, because the UN has seen all the difficulties involved in identifying Sahrawis: the more the years go by, the harder it becomes. But the UN is committed to finding a solution to this conflict. It can be a referendum, or a consultation in another way, but there must be agreement between the main characters. And the UN is obliged to do that.

TV5MONDE: In December 2020, Donald Trump recognized Morocco’s sovereignty in Western Sahara, and relations between Morocco and Israel have been normalized. What is Morocco’s position on this conflict?

Khadija Mohsen-Finan: Morocco is still in a position of fait accompli, except that with the recognition of Donald Trump in December 2020 and in return the fact that he normalizes his relationship with Israel, Morocco believed that it was acquired and that countries would multiply their adherence to this plan, which would be particularly evident at the opening of consulates, whether in Laâyoune or Dakhla. But he saw clearly that neither the United States nor France had opened a consulate in Western Sahara and was nonetheless quite reluctant.

They may not be against a Moroccan Western Sahara, but they want the legal forms to be in place. Morocco talked a lot about this autonomy in the Sahara within a sovereign kingdom. In recent months, I have not heard much about this possibility.

TV5MONDE: The Trump administration’s recognition of Morocco, resumption of conflicts … Has this development changed the balance of power in resolving this conflict?

Khadija Mohsen-Finan: Yes, at the military level, there is Moroccan superiority, that’s obvious. Morocco puts everything on its side. Since 1975, it has exploited resources, administered the population and demarcated the territory as it will, since it opened an armed conflict in Guerguerat against the forces of the Polisario Front, without the international community and the UN noticing. This resulted in press releases. He believes that everything is acquired as he manages this area and he organizes elections there. So he does not understand the reluctance today.

On the other hand, it has become almost indispensable for Western countries, insofar as it monitors the Strait of Gibraltar, and it is useful in retaining emigrants from especially sub-Saharan Africa. And he is actively fighting against jihadism thinking that was enough for the international community, the countries of the African Union, the United States, including the Biden administration, to recognize this property in him. It did not happen, so we go back to the UN to give this solution legal backing. Therefore, it is imperative that the UN Secretary-General appoint a special envoy to the area.

TV5MONDE: What is Algeria’s current position in this conflict?

Khadija Mohsen-Finan: The Algerian position remains unchanged: since they gained their independence thanks to self-determination, they officially supported the Polisario Front so that they could hold a self-determination referendum. They place their diplomacy in the service of the Polisario Front, which they recognize as the sole representative of the Sahrawis, and they host the Polisario Front in their territory.

Algeria is simply another country as the system is breathless. So he may be zealous in defending this attitude and these ideological and doctrinal attitudes. But he can also be less efficient and put less energy into this conflict. We know that this conflict hides a rivalry between Algeria and Morocco. Today, the search for a solution must be placed within the framework of the freezing of the relationship between Rabat and Algiers.

Who is Staffan de Mistura, the new UN envoy to Western Sahara?

Staffan de Mistura, 74, is a diplomat and former member of the Italian government. He has worked many times for the UN: as Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Afghanistan (1988-1991), in Lebanon (2001-2004) and in Iraq (2007-2009) as Director of the Center United Nations Information Office in Rome (2009- 2010), but also as Deputy Secretary-General and Special Envoy for Syria (2014-2018). These various experiences have made him an expert in diplomatic conflicts, he is considered the man with the last chance in the resolution of the Western Sahara conflict.

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