Western Sahara: Time to Make Peace, Not Just Keep It – Robert M. Holley

April 30, 2012

Bob Holley

On Tuesday, April 24 the UN Security Council unanimously kicked the Western Sahara issue down the road for yet another year (sigh) when it once again renewed the mandate for its peacekeeping mission in the region, MINURSO, with little more than further encouragement that the parties continue to cooperate with the Secretary General’s Personal Envoy in the search for a “just, lasting, and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara […]” MINURSO recently celebrated its 20th year of peacekeeping operations. But have two decades of peacekeeping really brought us any closer to a resolution of this lingering relic of the Cold War? Sadly not. But why not?

      The answer is really not that complicated. One side –  Morocco — has offered to compromise in the search to make the peace, but the other side – the Polisario Front — refuses to accept anything other than its own optimal outcome. Stalemate.  The status quo promises to thrive for yet another year. But must it be so?

      In this case, two things could happen that would likely break the logjam. The recalcitrant party could have an epiphany and come finally to understand that for the sake of the thousands of people wasting away for nearly 35 years in squalid refugee camps, and their grieving relatives living on the other side of the divide, and for the sake of the security and prosperity of the Maghreb region as a whole, the time has come to put an end to their stubborn insistence that their own singular idea of “the best” should forever triumph over what is clearly “the good” in these circumstances. One can hope. But hope, as they say, is not a policy.

          Or, with apologies to Horace, something less dependent on pipe dreams and more firmly grounded in reality could intervene to become the deus ex machina that cuts through this nasty little knot and moves the story along to a happier ending for all. What, pray tell, might cut so sure?

      It has been awhile since the foreign policy of the United States has been able to pat itself on the back for the wisdom of its conception and/or execution anywhere in the Middle East or North Africa, but here we think the opportunity is at hand. If we take it.

     In this case, US foreign policy has conceived a solution well enough, based on a compromise that allows Morocco to remain sovereign in the region while granting the people there an autonomous status to govern their own affairs. Problem is, the US seems to think this marvel will come to life on its own without any midwifery. Unlikely.  This very practical and fair-minded, “made in America” idea needs something other than words to give it life. It needs demonstrative, visible, tangible, purposeful, committed, concrete, and thus persuasive, support.  In short, we have said the right thing, but if we want the nay-sayers to believe us, time has come that we start doing the right thing as well. A good place to start would be for the US to finally get itself involved in the development of the territory to show that it is indeed prepared to help the people of the region develop a better life for themselves where they all wish to live anyway – no matter which side of the divide they live on today.Those now living in misery, and the recalcitrant ones who are keeping them there, might finally get the message that it is time to end this thing, settle on a reasonable compromise, and get on to a better life. We say it is what we want. It is our policy. Let’s help everyone believe that we actually mean it. –RMH
 Robert M. Holley is a Senior Policy Advisor for the Moroccan American Center for Policy (MACP) 

For more information about the Western Sahara Conflict, check out:

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