Since 1975, when Spain withdrew from its nearly century-long colonial domination of the region, then called “Spanish Sahara,” the Western Sahara has been an area of conflict between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front. In 1991, a ceasefire was declared, and a UN peacekeeping mission, the United Nations Missions for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), was established to bring an end to the conflict. Although the ceasefire has held, subsequent attempts to negotiate peace have not succeeded, and a humanitarian crisis created by the conflict continues to this day. Tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees have remained trapped in desperate conditions in Polisario-run camps in Algeria for more than 30 years.

In an effort to break the political impasse, address the humanitarian crisis, and respond to the UN abandoning the idea of a referendum in favor of a negotiated political solution, Morocco unveiled a compromise political solution for the Western Sahara in 2007. The Moroccan autonomy plan, based on autonomy for the territory under Moroccan sovereignty, has been supported by three consecutive US administrations, beginning with Bill Clinton, and endorsed by bipartisan majorities of the US House and Senate.

In addition to offering a compromise political solution to the conflict, Morocco has invested billions of dollars in the development of region, where Sahrawis enjoy the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of Moroccan citizenship. Morocco’s latest initiative, the Economic, Social, and Environmental Council Regional Development project aims to promote further development and empower local and regional officials to develop local solutions to human rights and economic and development challenges in the south of Morocco.

Achieving a lasting political solution to the Western Sahara conflict is increasingly urgent, as the conflict contributes significantly to instability in North Africa and the Sahel, which is currently plagued by turmoil that threatens the region and beyond. The Western Sahara conflict stands in the way of economic and security cooperation essential to fighting the dangerous expansion of terrorist activity in the region, as well as promoting much-needed regional development.

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