Western Sahara: 42 and Counting – Time to Make a DEAL! – Robert M. Holley

Signing of the Fairbanks Declaration. Pictured, Rex Tillerson, United States Secretary of State. Photo: Arctic Council Secretariat / Linnea Nordström

Signing of the Fairbanks Declaration. Pictured, Rex Tillerson, United States Secretary of State. Photo: Arctic Council Secretariat / Linnea Nordström

Robert M. Holley
November 8, 2017

Robert M. Holley, Senior Policy Adviser, MACP

Robert M. Holley, Senior Policy Adviser, MACP

This week marks the 42nd anniversary of King Hassan II’s famous Green March into the Moroccan Sahara to reassert Morocco’s historical sovereignty over the region. An event in which several hundred thousand Moroccans, led by their King, calmly marched through lines of armed Spanish colonial soldiers carry nothing but their flags, their faith, their patriotism, their children and the Koran. Shortly after, Spain withdrew from its century-long colonial possession and the Kingdom of Morocco resumed its historical role of sovereign in the region. Not long after that, a Marxist-Leninist, authoritarian insurrection movement that came to be known as the Polisario Front, backed by the usual suspects of the Moscow orbit of that time, including prominently Cuba, Algeria and Libya, began an armed insurrection in an attempt to snatch the territory away by force. They failed.

In 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and communism in Russia, the United Nations managed to broker a cease fire and a commitment  to hold a referendum on the future of the territory.  Like too many UN sponsored efforts at making peace, their poorly constructed framework eventually failed as well, this time over its most basic element – who should be allowed to vote.

Attempts to bridge the many issues surrounding voter registration floundered along for nearly eight years until the United States decided the UN failure needed fixing.  Washington’s answer? Let’s make a deal. A compromise political solution based on a broad and robust autonomy for the region under Moroccan sovereignty. Not long after, the UN Security Council also recognized that the referendum idea was fatally flawed and joined the consensus forged by the United States to promote “a mutually acceptable political solution,” eventually also endorsing Washington’s assessment of the Moroccan autonomy initiative as “serious, credible and realistic.” That was ten years ago.

Are you listening Mr. President?

 Are you listening Mr. Secretary?

There is a deal on the table waiting for someone with the commitment, the smarts and the wherewithal to make it happen.

I am not going to try to pull the wool over your eyes about this. This is not entirely low hanging fruit, but neither is it anything like something in the “too hard to do” category. What it needs is just a little bit of out-of-the-box imagination and a little bit of patience and some measure of persistence.

We have some ideas to share here if anyone would like to discuss it.

Let’s make a DEAL!

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