Robert M. Holley
July 15, 2019
At the recent 14th session of the Morocco/European Union Association Council meeting in Brussels, the European Union joined its language concerning Western Sahara with that of the United Nations Security Council. All the buzzwords were present in the EU statement on the issue at the close of the session: realistic, pragmatic, sustainable, and compromise, along with the description of Morocco’s autonomy initiative as serious and credible. All very positive and welcome. The EU is now on record as being fully supportive of the same language that has emerged from the last several Security Council resolutions on Western Sahara.
However, the Moroccan press seemed a bit over-generous in hailing the language as the definitive demise of the Algerian and Polisario preference for a defining referendum or pretentions to other alternatives.
What remains missing among these admittedly positive calls for compromise and realism from the Security Council and the European Union is a definitive sense of just what is meant by these words. Until they are attached to something more specific, they don’t rule anything in, nor do they rule anything out.
Yes, Morocco’s autonomy initiative is certainly a good example of a compromise solution that could be sustainable, and is clearly both realistic and pragmatic. Its chief attraction is that it allows a win-win outcome and avoids handing either an outright victory or a complete loss to those who would prefer full independence for the territory or full integration into Morocco. And, for the moment, it is the only option presented by any of the Parties to the dispute that meets those criteria. The Polisario and Algeria have yet to present an alternative proposal that meets the standard being set by the Security Council and the European Union. For now, they simply continue to insist on a winner take all referendum that enjoys the favor of only a seriously diminishing group of outside supporters with no real stake in the outcome.
The odds of breaking through this logjam seem also to be diminishing. Thus far, the Secretary General has been unable to reveal a viable replacement for Horst Kohler as Personal Envoy for the problem. And the Security Council seems no closer to a consensus position that might finally give fuller definition to what it really means by compromise and realism.
In the meantime, the rhetorical combat among the Parties continues unabated and the long suffering people of the region are left looking out across the empty desert hoping against hope that one day they might finally be reunited with their families on either side of the divide.