Jordan Paul, MACP
April 30, 2015
On Tuesday the UN Security Council once again called on Morocco and the Polisario Front to sit down and negotiate a political solution to the issue of the Western Sahara. Morocco has been waiting at the negotiating table facing an empty chair since 2008.
That year, Peter van Walsum, the former Personal Envoy of the Secretary General for Western Sahara, issued his bracingly honest report calling for the next round of formal talks to focus only on a real solution based on autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. The US government seconded his view.
Seven years later, the Polisario Front is still maneuvering to obstruct and avoid formal negotiations over the Western Sahara. Instead, they have threatened over and over again to return to war; and now they have even threatened to walk away from the UN. This strategy isn’t working for anyone.
In the resolution that passed unanimously earlier this week, the UN Security Council included a provision that recalls the van Walsum report and very clearly calls for realistic negotiations:
Welcomes the parties’ commitment to continue the process of preparation for a fifth round of negotiations, and recalls its endorsement of the recommendation in the report of 14 April 2008 (S/2008/251) that realism and a spirit of compromise by the parties are essential to achieve progress in negotiations.
A negotiated solution based on autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty is the only realistic answer to this problem. That is why the UN has repeatedly called Morocco’s Autonomy Initiative “serious and credible” and why the US Government calls it “serious, realistic and credible.” Peter van Walsum was right in 2008 when he called for negotiations in the spirit of realism and he is right today. And the UN Security Council has once again agreed that a 5th round based on his recommendation is needed now more than ever.
Maybe 2015 will be different. Perhaps the Polisario Front will try a new approach this year: negotiating in good faith on the basis of a solution based on autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. Maybe the international community will hold the Polisario accountable for their obstructionism, and encourage them to actually play a role in solving the dispute that has stymied regional cooperation. That would certainly provide immediate relief to the tens of thousands of people held in the Polisario run refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria.
As Mr. van Walsum wrote in the 2008 report:
The main reason why I find the status quo intolerable is that it is too readily accepted, not only by uncommitted onlookers in distant lands, but also by deeply involved supporters of the Frente Polisario, who do not live in the camps themselves but are convinced that those who do would rather stay there indefinitely than settle for any negotiated solution that falls short of full independence.
For the good of the region, for the best interests of those who suffer in the Polisario-run refugee camps, I hope that in 2015 the Polisario will sit down in an honest effort to negotiate a realistic solution. Morocco will be waiting.