The dialogue on Western Sahara will resume this Wednesday, December 5. The talks will be held for two days at the UN Human Rights Building in Geneva. Western Sahara is located in southern Morocco, on the border with Mauritania and Algeria.
This is the novelty of these discussions. For the first time, the Polisario Front, Morocco, but also Algeria and Mauritania, were invited to sit around the table, with the same status. The idea is to break the cleavage between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which has lasted for more than forty years. The major point of tension is that of the status of Western Sahara.
Morocco is willing to grant autonomy within its territorial sovereignty, when the Polisario Front demands self-determination through the holding of a referendum, as explained by Mohamed Khaddad, member of the National Secretariat of the Polisario Front: “The question of Western Sahara is a question of decolonization. The passage of years has not changed this nature of the conflict. The people of Western Sahara have the right to decide their fate so we have already, in our 2007 solution, offered guarantees to Morocco on the economic, security and social level. In short, we can negotiate everything except the right to self-determination. Of course, the best option is to have an agreement and a referendum and go to the referendum hand in hand.
This solution of the referendum was accepted by the United Nations since 1991, but since Morocco has backpedaled several times on this issue. Today, the problem is that the situation in Western Sahara has completely changed, especially because the kingdom has increased investment and has conducted a real settlement policy.
“There was a mixing of population, confirms Khadija Mohsen-Finan, researcher at the Sorbonne and Maghreb specialist, who was a willingness of Hassan II initially to move the populations of Morocco and install them in Western Sahara. To provide them with facilities, including subsidized products such as very low rents … In such a way that this mixing of population makes Sahraouis minority and that Saharawi identity, itself, is diluted.
Morocco is thus formal: the referendum today is no longer an option. This is in any case the opinion of Shaibata Mrabih Rabou, president of the Sahara Center for Development Studies, a Moroccan institution: “We can not identify who is Sahrawi to vote. The Polisario has always presented false figures, there has never been a census of the population of the Tindouf camps and these people do not even have a refugee card. So the question of the referendum is out of date. The UN was very clear with resolution 24-40 to welcome the Moroccan initiative to solve this problem, it means the extended autonomy for the Sahara region.
In these conditions, there is not much to expect from this meeting in Geneva. The United Nations itself has not set the bar very high. They speak of a preliminary meeting. The agenda is very vague. It’s mostly about getting back in touch. But international pressure, particularly from the United States, is still quite strong, because the blockage on Western Sahara has serious consequences for the entire region.
“At the level of the economies of the region, there would be two or three points of PBI per country if the conflict was to be resolved, said Khadija Mohsen-Finan. There is a human reason, since these are families that have been separated for more than forty years. The other question is a security question because we have a population that is politicized, who is seasoned and has no ideology, no ideal and who could be tempted to join terrorist groups “.
To speed things up, in April, the United Nations renewed the mandate of the Minurso, the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, for six months instead of one year .
■ The meeting seen from Algiers
Algeria, which makes the issue of Western Sahara a priority, is pleased with the resumption of the process.
After six years of blocking, the discussions will resume. This is how the Algerian official media presents the meeting that opens in Switzerland this Tuesday. Algeria makes the Western Sahara issue a priority, but it does not consider itself as a stakeholder and insists that its political position is the same as that of the UN.
For Algiers, it takes a “durable solution”, “acceptable by both parties”, which “guarantees self-determination” Saharaouis.
If Algeria considers that the blocking of the negotiations since 2012 is due to Morocco, today the context could be favorable to a solution: in February, the European Court of Justice denounced the fishing agreement between the Union and Morocco, because the agreement took into account the waters of territories claimed by the Saharaouis.
Even if last week the Council of the European Union adopted despite all this fishing agreement, the Algerian authorities declared their support to the leaders of the Polisario Front and hope that the UN will be able to organize a “series “in the coming months”.
■ The meeting seen from Rabat
In Morocco, we remain vigilant about the expected attitude of the Algerian neighbor in this file.
Morocco has obtained it and the local press welcomes it, Algeria will actually participate as a neighboring state in this round table.
Diplomatic victory if it is for Rabat facing Algiers who has always considered not having to intervene in a conflict qualified decolonization.
On the side of the corridor sounds, Moroccan diplomacy is still suspicious of the attitude of Algiers at this meeting.
“If Algeria leaves the room to drink tea or coffee, we too will go out to sip tea or coffee,” announces the Permanent Representative of Morocco to the UN Omar Hilale at 360.ma site information close to the administration. The diplomat is more generally warned against what is called in Rabat Algerian maneuvers of not really taking part in the discussions.
As a reminder, Morocco insists for several weeks to resume a direct dialogue with its Maghreb neighbor and called, in the words of Mohammed VI, to end the differences. A policy of the outstretched hand to which so far has responded very lukewarm Alger, who proposed to go through the dormant institution of the Arab Maghreb Union.
According to the Sherifian observers the stakes are not in the progress of negotiations – in the diplomatic field – Morocco has not changed its position – but in the opening of a dialogue that is qualified more qualitative with the Algerian neighbor.